RESPONSE BY THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO

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SUMMARY

  • The contract the City had with the DecoBike scheme, in force when scooters arrived in 2018, limited its actions.
  • It could have enforced its existing regulations to protect pedestrians but instead the City did nothing.
  • The County Grand Jury issues a report condemning the City for doing nothing.
  • The City took over a year and a half to introduce regulations and apart from prohibiting scooters on sidewalks downtown, they did nothing to address the safety issues.
  • The public was promised that the 2019 ordinance would be improved. The City did nothing.
  • Disability Rights California filed a class-action lawsuit against the City on behalf of the disabled. The City moved with alacrity to have it dismissed.
  • New proposals were put by Alyssa Muto to the AT&I committee which rejected them and called for proposals to get scooters off sidewalks and explain the cost of the rental industry to the City. As yet neither has happened.

HOW HAS THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO RESPONDED TO THE VARIOUS SAFETY THREATS?

To understand the answer to that question one must understand the situation in existence when motorized scooters appeared in February 2018.

The Failure of the DecoBike Shared Bicycle Scheme

In February 2018, when the first motorized scooters for rent appeared, the City of San Diego had a contract in place with DecoBike, to provide shared, docked, manually operated bicycles for rent. DecoBike stands had been established at various locations in which the bikes were docked and to which a renter must return them at the end of their ride. As the Downtown San Diego Partnership indicated:

"WHAT EXACTLY IS A DECOBIKE?

It’s one of the fastest and most convenient ways to get around the city!

DECOBIKE is the only citywide bikeshare in San Diego and is operated in partnership with the City of San Diego. It is your new alternative mode of transportation that is green, healthy, and fun! It’s for residents. It’s for visitors. Most importantly, it’s for you! At full operation, the program features a network of over 180 solar powered bike rental and sharing stations with a fleet of more than 1,700 custom DECOBIKES accessible from dozens of locations 24 hours per day. Enjoy San Diego as you never had before!

Check out a bicycle for an exhilarating ride, tour historic San Diego, meet friends, run errands, or get to your office or hotel. DECOBIKE is here to help you save time, money, your body, and of course the environment. There are two distinct ways to utilize the DECOBIKE program, either as a Bike Share Member or an Hourly Rental."

"New". "Fun!". "Helps the environment".  Sounds familiar?  🤔

In fact the DecoBike scheme, which had been launched in 2015, was in serious trouble well before motorized scooters appeared. Alon Levy, writing in the Voice of San Diego in a November of 2017 article entitled "How San Diego Screwed Up Bike Sharing" indicated that the scheme never reached the projected distribution of stations, ridership had continued to fall from the initial levels and major reasons for this was the City's failure to install adequate infrastructure for cycling in the form of protected bike lanes:

"One reason for DecoBike’s low ridership is that San Diego has little infrastructure for cyclists. It is hard to expect people to bike, even when bikes are available, without protected bike lanes. It’s too dangerous, and would-be cyclists recognize that fast-moving cars could kill them in a collision. There is also the risk of being doored by a driver or car passenger exiting a parked car, which is mitigated with protected bike lanes. That’s why bike advocacy groups have demanded protected lanes."

A second reason, argues Levy, was the poor design of the system:

"Downtown has a high density of docking stations and bikes. But outside downtown, the stations are scattered haphazardly. There are three in Pacific Beach, all close to one another; people can’t bike from one part of the neighborhood to another. There is one in Ocean Beach. There are a few near Interstate 5, difficult to access from the rest of the system except by car."

Related was the failure to install the planned system in full. That would have enabled users to access a wide geographic area instead of "linear corridors":

"San Diego’s 1,800 bikes would be enough to cover a large fraction of the city effectively. There were plans to install docks along linear corridors, as Voice of San Diego reported in 2014, but the outlying stations have been shelved. Even the original plans focused too much on linear corridors and too little on a growing service area with high density."

In sum then, when motorized rental scooters appeared, San Diego already had a shared mobility scheme that failed because the City provided too little support for it and implemented it poorly.

However this also explains why local cycling and cycling related groups, (e.g. Bike SD and Circulate San Diego), supported the arrival of scooters as it quickly became apparent through the multiple reports of injuries of scooter drivers that rentable scooters would provide an additional means of pressuring the City to invest in bike lanes. That most of such injuries resulted from falls from scooters not collisions with cars mattered not.

The existence of the contract between DecoBike and the City precluded rentable alternatives and  constrained the City from legitimizing dockless motorized scooters initially. Until the City had come to an arrangement with Deco Bike to end the contract, it faced the possibility of litigation.

Nevertheless The City Could Have Protected Pedestrian Safety

But from February 2018 to June 2019, by when the DecoBike contract had ended and an ordinance to govern shared mobility devices came into effect, the City had regulations in the Municipal Code that prohibited encroachment on sidewalks and the running of a business from sidewalks without a permit. The State of California also had regulations that required all users of motorized scooters to wear a helmet, (until January 1, 2019), not drive on sidewalks and not leave a scooter lying on its side or in a manner that created a hazard or obstacle for pedestrians, and use them only on roads with speed limits up to 25mph (or in a bike lane). In retrospect it appears clear that, rather than acting to protect the safety of pedestrians the politicians had been successfully lobbied by scooter rental companies to turn a blind eye to those regulations and leave them a free hand to operate.

We advocated for regulations to be adopted in 2018 and 2019 and gave feedback on the inadequacies of the proposed regulations made by then Mayor Kevin Faulconer. It took the City a year and a half to get those inadequate regulations on the books and the primary impetus for it to do so was not to protect the public. Rather it was the need to protect itself from liability should someone be injured riding a scooter and to pre-empt the County Grand Jury report which was scathing in its assessment of the City's failure to introduce regulations and enforcement.

The public was promised an update of the regulations six months later but that never materialized and so from mid-2019 onwards the public has been ill-served by an ordinance that legitimized the use of sidewalks for staging and parking of rental scooters throughout most of the city and which is not supported by any kind of meaningful enforcement.

In essence the City sold the safety of pedestrians: permit fees have brought it millions of dollars of income while it has spent almost nothing on protecting the safety of pedestrians.

More Recent City Responses: More Of The Same?

So we advocated for changes and improvements to the City's ordinance governing shared mobility devices and most recently for clarification on how the latest proposals and RFP will be effective in solving the safety issues the scooter rental industry creates.

In the meantime Disability Rights California filed a class-action lawsuit against the City of San Diego on behalf of the disabled.

Changes in the members of Council and Mayor, which occurred on January 20, 2021, presented a possible opportunity to see an update adopted. We again prepared proposals that would solve the problems affecting pedestrians. They were endorsed by both Disability Rights California and the Downtown Community Planning Council and we have briefed all the members of Council and their and the Mayor's staff on them. They would, if adopted, cost the City almost nothing. A simple and easy fix you would think and so in early 2021 we explained the problems and solutions to the members of the Active Transportation & Infrastructure, (AT&I), committee in a summary: Motorized Scooter Rental Industry: Issues and Solutions.

The head of the City's new Mobility Department, Alyssa Muto, then presented her own proposals to the AT&I  committee on May 19, 2021. The link goes to the agenda for the meeting and the relevant materials including a Staff Report and the Director's proposals. These were wholly inadequate in dealing with the problems facing pedestrians and instead pandered to the desires of some of the scooter rental companies, with whom Ms. Muto has frequent and regular meetings.

For example a large part of Ms. Muto's proposals aimed to impose requirements not on the scooter rental companies but rather on companies which removed and impounded vehicles left on private property. Impounding imposes a cost on the rental companies. The City has largely abandoned doing so in the public domain and Ms. Muto's proposals seek to prohibit impounding of scooters impeding access to or from private property as well.

The other major element of her proposals was the introduction of a Request for Proposals, (RFP), process,  by which a smaller number of rental companies would be selected to operate in the City.

The committee rejected the Director's proposals and, on the initiative of CM Joe LaCava, (D1), who is a member of the committee, asked for them to be reviewed with particular attention to:

  • getting scooters off sidewalks,
  • assessing the legality of the proposals to govern the impounding of rental scooters from private property, and,
  • assessing the total cost the industry places on the City something we estimate. on this site.

In September, 2021, we presented the Mayor with the list of over two hundred signatories of our petition asking him to get scooters off sidewalks.

In November 2021, the the RFP document, which outlines a new contract-based system to replace permitting and a variety of changes to the Municipal Code, was made public. This seems to offer hope that sidewalks will no longer be used to stage and park scooters. If so, that would be a major improvement, but, nothing has been explained about how the City will monitor or enforce the requirements of the new contract or the applicable regulations in the Municipal Code and it is not expected to come into effect before August 2022.

Until then we are left with the inadequate regulations adopted in 2019 and a City that still refuses to adopt effective monitoring and enforcement measures to protect the safety of pedestrians especially that of the mobility and vision impaired.

The table below presents the salient aspects of the approach taken by the City of San Diego to date in regulating the motorized scooter rental industry.

Regulations in San Diego (Popn. ~1.4M)

ACTIONYES/NONOTES
Does the city limit the number of operators?No
Which companies operate in the city?
  • Bird
  • Lime
  • Link (Superpedestrian)
  • Lyft
  • Spin (Skinny Labs)
  • Veo
  • Wheels
City ran a pilot program?No
How regulated?Ordinance
Program included bikes?YesShared Mobility Devices included electric and motorized bicycles but all the current operators only applied for permits for motorized scooters apart from 200 electric Bikes for Bird.
Fleet size adjustable?YesPermits are issued every six months. Operators can change the number of devices allowed to operate when applying for a permit.
Criteria laid out for changes in fleet sizeNo
Criteria laid out for selection for program?N/a
Number of scooters allowed.No limitFor the permitting period January - June 2021 the following numbers were applied and paid for:
Bird: 4,500
Link: 1,500
Lyft: 1,000
Spin: 1,000
Veo: 1,000
Wheels 750

Total: 9,750

Are the allowed numbers adjusted seasonally?No
Was a survey of the public conducted?No
Was a survey of users conducted?No
Pilot program is part of a wider Mobility program?No
FeesPermit Application Fee: $5,141 per application (two applications per year).
Permit fees: $150 per year
Discount: $ 15 per year.
Records Fee: $20 per application
Other fee: $12.20 per application
Are maintenance and safety standards required?YesFrom permit application:
"Operator's fleet of shared mobility devices complies with applicable federal and state laws with respect to their design and operation and the shared mobility devices are maintained in good working order consistent with industry standards."  Proof is a statement of compliance.
Does the City have clear criteria for permit refusal/non-renewal?No
Does the City have clear criteria for revocation of a permit?No
Does the City allow devices to be parked on the sidewalk?YesOutside of downtown, they may be parked on sidewalks in groups of four, at least forty feet apart.
If allowed on sidewalks, are they only on bike racks or specifically designated and marked spots set aside for scooters?No
Does the City enforce scooter staging/parking restrictions via immediate ticketing, fines, and/or impoundments?YesRepeated requests to enable Parking Enforcement to issue tickets have been ignored by the Mayor.

Impoundment is conducted by a contracted service, Sweep. Originally their contract was for $540,000 per year for five years for two teams operating a fourteen hour shift. During 2020 this was cut to $360,000 per year for one team operating an eight hour shift from 6am to 2pm. There is no allocation in the FY21/22 budget for this to be restored to the original level. In the first third of 2021 the number of scooters impounded was 131. By September 2021 this had fallen to just 15 for the month and subsequently the City has effectively abandoned using impounding.

Number of parking citations issued.N/oneParking Enforcement is not allowed to issue tickets.
To what extent does the City enforce against sidewalk riding?Virtually NilFive citations were issued for moving violations in the first three months of 2021.
(Source PRA 21-1911 Scooter Citations).
Does the City require the operator to educate customers?NoThe operator is required to attest to providing some basic information.
From the permit application form:
"Operator’s user interface provides accurate information about Vehicle Code requirements, including state licensing requirements, applicable to the operation of a shared mobility device..."
Does the City require the operators to report back on its education efforts and incidents?N/a
Is there a wait time before impounding may occur?Yes3 hours unless an imminent life safety hazard, (ILSH), when it may be immediate. The City defines an ILSH as a scooter lying in the street impeding traffic or on the drop curb of a sidewalk. It does not classify access along a sidewalk prevented by scooters as an IMLSH.
What fee does the City charge for an impounded device?$65 plus a daily storage fee.
Does the City require technology to slow the vehicles?YesVehicles must be slowed to either 8mph or 3mph if entering specified zones.
Does the City require technology to control the parking behavior of users?No
Does the City require the use of technology to prevent sidewalk driving?No
Does the City stipulate equitable distribution and avoidance of congestion?NoIt offers a fleet-wide discount of $15 per device if the operator files a plan for equitable distribution regardless of the number assigned to disadvantaged areas.
Does the City specify locations for the vehicles to be staged or parked?In partDowntown vehicles are to be staged and parked in City-designated corrals only. Elsewhere staged in corrals if provided, otherwise on sidewalks in groups of 4, each group at least 40 feet apart.
Does the City specify goals for its program and parking and staging requirements?No
Do they explicitly refer to ADA access requirements or avoiding impeding ADA access?No