A set of regulations for the dockless electric scooter industry is set to come before the Los Angeles City Council Tuesday as council members scramble to keep up with a fast-moving technology that has proliferated in Westside communities over the last year.
The motorized devices have sparked love-them-or-hate-them emotions among many residents, with some arguing they are an environmentally friendly mode of transportation and the wave of the future, while opponents complain they are a safety hazard cluttering up public right-of-ways by careless users illegally riding them on the sidewalk and without a helmet.
The scooters work through a phone app that allows people to find and unlock the devices and drop them off anywhere they are allowed, with no docking station or kiosk required.
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The city of Beverly Hills recently enacted a six-month ban on the devices as its leaders grapple with regulations, while Santa Monica last week created a 16-month pilot program which caps the number of scooters allowed on the streets.
The devices have proven to be divisive on the L.A. City Council as well, with Councilman Paul Koretz in July calling for a ban on them until the city fully drafts its regulations. Councilman Mitchell Englander recently pressured the Department of Transportation to issue cease-and-desist letters to all scooter companies by the end of last week that were not part of any established pilot program. There are no pilot programs in the city for dockless scooters, only for dockless bikes, according to the DOT, meaning every company has been ordered to cease operating scooters in the city.
Whether the companies will be allowed to operate this week if the City Council approves the regulations is unclear. Englander said that Tuesday's scheduled vote is just a first step and it could take at least six months before the regulations become law, while Councilman Mike Bonin -- who is a fan of the devices and represents the Westside, where they are most prevalent -- suggested Tuesday's vote would clear up the gray areas.
"If electric scooters are going to succeed at being the convenient and environmentally friendly transit option they have the potential to be, instead of a neighborhood nuisance, we need to adopt smart, comprehensive, enforceable regulations as soon as possible -- hopefully next week," he told City News Service on Aug. 22. "The sooner we get these rules in place and bring companies into the new program, the sooner the city will have the tools necessary to require companies to operate their fleets safely and considerately."
The regulations going before the council would allow for controlled growth of the devices, with a cap of 3,000 devices per provider. Operators would have the opportunity to add up to 2,500 more devices if they are located in disadvantaged communities, and they can add an additional 5,000 in disadvantaged communities in the San Fernando Valley.
If companies can demonstrate at least three rides per day per device and adhere to all rules and regulations, the general manager of LADOT each quarter could allow for providers to add 5,000 more devices, according to the proposed regulations.
The regulations would also authorize DOT to issue revocable conditional permits to companies currently operating in the city of Los Angeles, and would not allow for any expansion of the conditional permit.
There is also the issue of the top speed of the scooters that needs to be decided. Two of the major companies operating in L.A. -- Bird and Lime -- have top speeds of around 15 miles per hour, but the Transportation Committee recommended they be capped at 12 mph after Bonin said he heard some companies were considering raising their speeds to be more competitive in the market and attract users. But the Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee has recommended a top speed of 15 mph, and the City Council will need to reconcile the conflicting choices.
Mary Caroline Pruitt, a communications manager for Lime, told City News Service last month that "by slowing traffic, the proposed regulation would increase safety concerns. An average cyclist bikes at a speed of 15-20 mph, so imposing a scooter speed cap of 12 mph would disrupt the flow of traffic in bike lanes and streets, which could cause safety hazards."