Santa Monica tries to catch up with e-scooters

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**Following the airing of this program, the Santa Monica City Council approved a pilot program, due to begin Sept. 17, that caps the number of scooters allowed in the city. It allows two competing electric scooter companies and two electric bike companies to operate in the city, with a “dynamic” cap on the number of scooters and bikes each company is allowed to deploy. The program also imposes higher permitting fees, r equires vendors to increase the availability of helmets for riders at the time of use  and mandates more stringent rules that, if broken, would result in the rental company losing its permit to operate in the city.**

Ever since Bird scooters took flight in Santa Monica in the fall of 2017, they have ruffled feathers, won devoted customers and earned huge amounts of VC investment.

Now competing dockless e-scooter companies are entering the space, such as those from Lime, which also makes dockless bikes.

All this has municipalities rushing to figure out what to do with a new technology that offers a popular, clean alternative to the car but has outpaced the city’s transit planning and upended its control of public space.

Some cities, the tech capital of San Francisco included, have nixed e-scooters altogether while they figure out who should get permits. Others have embraced them, no strings attached.

The City of Santa Monica, where the dockless e-scooter took off, is looking for a third way.

Tonight City Council will consider implementing a “Pilot Program for Shared Mobility Devices.”

This would allow three companies to each put a maximum of 500 scooters on the road, and mandate minimum operating requirements for maintenance, education, safety, customer service, and data sharing. So what is the goal exactly?

“Our goal is to find multiple partners to test out different solutions and to see what the differences are,” says Francie Stefan, mobility manager for the city of Santa Monica.

She adds, “there are few times we've seen devices taken up so quickly by so many people. And if it provides a mobility option and a relief for people we would like to support it as long as we can manage some of the safety concerns and make sure that it's good neighbors for even those people who aren't interested in riding.”

Bird, however, objects to the 500 number cap being proposed by the city of Santa Monica, saying this limits the availability of their scooters, and defeats the goal of being a first-mile, last-mile solution. The company has organized a rally later today to protest.

Meanwhile, the newcomer Lime says that while it has some concerns too about this cap, it stands ready to work with the city.

While this pilot program is being considered, Bird and Lime scooters still operate.

So is this pilot program intended to clip Bird’s wings?

Gleam Davis, Santa Monica’s Mayor Pro Tempore, says that is not the goal. Rather, she says, “I think what we need to do is let them spread their wings. But we need to make sure that all dockless mobility devices are operated in a way that is conducive to a shared mobility vision where you have automobiles, dockless mobility, skateboards, all sorts of devices that people are using to move around, and it's all being done in a safe manner.”

The latest version Lime-S dockless electric scooter, designed in collaboration with Segway, has hit the roads in Santa Monica. Photo by Frances Anderton.