San Diego Passes First Reading of New Ordinance Governing SMD Companies
NEW BUT COULD BE BETTER REGULATIONS, NO MONITORING, LITTLE ENFORCEMENT
First the secret about which scooter rental companies have been selected to operate in SD after the end of July is now out of the bag. Ahmad Erikat, the City’s new Shared Mobility Program Coordinator revealed them when making his presentation to Council about the new ordinance to govern them. They are:
That’s right, the City has NOT selected Bird to operate here any longer, although Bird has submitted a protest to the City which Erikat reported has put the completion of the new contractual arrangement with the four selected companies on hold until it is determined. Nonetheless he assured Council that all would be squared away and the new program would be ready to roll come August 1st. More about Bird in a separate blog post.
Second, well, there’s a new ordinance on the horizon to govern the scooter rental companies, (aka Shared Mobility Device, [SMD], operators) from August 1st. It will require all SMDs to be parked and staged in the street, reduces the impounding wait-time from 3h to 1h and includes many of the things we have been advocating to improve pedestrian safety, but it lacks a number of others.
It reduces the number of operators to four selected by the City and caps the total SMDs at 8,000 (down from the current ~11,000) but that won’t make a material difference to the number of vehicles you’ll see because currently less than 60% of them are deployed, i.e. there’s 6,000 – 7,000 out there and the new cap on the combined fleet sizes of the four selected operators of 8,000 is still more than that.
There’ll be a curfew but only from midnight to 2:30am.
The RFP requires operators to have sidewalk detection technology, but now the Municipal Code will only require it “when commercially available”. City staff have said that the technology has been demonstrated to them, and, at the last AT&I meeting they stated that such technology will be a requirement for operators to be selected. But we have not yet seen a successful demonstration. So once the new system starts on August 1st. there may be nothing to prevent sidewalk driving and, by the way, the tech is only required to detect sidewalk driving, not detect and prevent it.
Parking problems will be in a similar state. The cicumstances when the City’s impounding service can act immediately, without waiting for an hour, will be expanded. They will operate for twelve hours rather than the current eight. But that still leaves long periods when there’s no service to clear scooters in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA).
Erikat told the Council that his department’s approach is to have the companies self-monitor and self-enforce the new regulations. He also told them that the selected operators will have sidewalk detection technology which will deal with the issue of sidewalk driving. We look forward to seeing that in operation on August 1st.
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
All the Council members had been fully briefed on the safety issues we raised. All knew that adding them to the ordinance would cost the City nothing. Yet not one of them did anything to amend the ordinance. It passed by nine votes to zero exactly as presented to them. However questions were asked and data was requested. For example data on accidents at night to inform the question of whether to expand the curfew, which may be considered at the Second Reading.
So my feelings on the outcome are decidedly mixed.
We made some progress on regulations but they could be better.
Regulations are meaningless without monitoring for compliance and enforcement when not in compliance and all the indications are that the Sustainability and Mobility department under Director Alyssa Muto is not going to do much, if anything, of either. This is in contrast to other departments.
For instance the City recently passed a new ordinance governing street vendors which is to come into effect on June 1st. Street vendors will pay a permit fee to the City, which a D3 staff member stated will then fund the hiring of thirty five new inspectors. Scooter operator permit fees have generated over four million dollars and that has funded exactly zero inspectors. Why street vendors who use stalls on sidewalks to sell their wares are treated differently from street vendors of scooter renting who have placed scooters for rent on sidewalks for four plus years is unknown but I suspect it is due to a difference in approach taken by the Directors of the respective City departments.
We got lots of “wait and see” and promises of improvement but we have had those and been “wait and see”-ing for over four years now. After a while such promises wear decidedly thin.
That said, the Council must have a Second Reading of the regulations no less than thirty days after the first, so possibly June 27th or 28th. and there is a chance changes could still be made then. Fingers crossed.
FROM TRANSPARENCY TO OPACITY
A fundamental concern about the new contractual system is that things now transparent to the public will be buried in contracts and obscured.
For example Whitburn came to the meeting with a list of locations he wanted added to the ordinance, as LaCava had added those for his district when the ordinance was heard earlier by the AT&I committee, of which he is a member. But Whitburn was told that his list and those of any Council member “could be added to the contract” and so he did not propose them for addition to the Municipal Code. Thus, of the nine, only LaCava has got his district’s locations explicitly stated in the Municipal Code as needing to be geofenced and thus speed restricted.
When provisions that could have been in the Municipal Code are instead put into contracts, the public then has limited and often delayed or even no access to the information about which they care. Currently the Municipal Code explicitly specifies such matters and anyone can readily see what it says but items buried in a contract become opaque and your and my representative has no direct control over them as the contents of the contracts are in the purview of City staff, not Council Members.
Also not clear was when changes can be made to contracts. Will Whitburn’s list of locations be included before the contracts are finalized and signed? We haven’t been told. Will Whitburn be able to have locations or other terms added to the contracts after they are signed? We weren’t told. Neither did any of the Council Members even bother to ask.
In essence then the City is passing a lot of control of an industry, the behavior of which has adversely affected the lives of many citizens, to City staff and out of sight of elected representatives.
Beyond that, the SD Police Department can only enforce Municipal Code regulations and requirements not contract terms. Therefore, for example if a location is only stated in the contract, and not in the Municipal Code, as being geofenced to a slow speed or even zero, the police cannot enforce that.
As a result, current methods of enforcement, little though they are, will be even further reduced and obscured.
We raised this issue of transparency and enforcement with all nine members of Council in our Action Requests document soon after the RFP was published yet those concerns have been ignored.