Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly characterized the scooter ban ordinance as temporary. The ordinance is permanent.
In a Sept. 20 letter "to the community," Bird founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden laid out the mission of his electric scooter sharing company in optimistic terms.
"We created Bird," he wrote. "And with it, Rideshare 2.0—a cleaner, more convenient, affordable, car-reducing alternative to make cities more enjoyable."
After just one year, his company's scooters were deployed in more than 100 cities and Bird celebrated its 10 millionth ride. But not everyone agrees that scooter sharing app services like Bird, Lime, and others are making their cities "more enjoyable." Social media is rife with photos of the electric scooters piling up on sidewalks and street corners in cities like Los Angeles and San Diego, and a quick YouTube search yields multiple videos of riders crashing on their scooters or surviving near-misses with pedestrians and other vehicles.
Such concerns were on the minds of the Pismo Beach City Council when it voted unanimously on Oct. 2 to enact an urgency ordinance to ban the operation of shared motorized scooter programs citywide.
"Certainly with our downtown congestion, the thought of a bunch of scooters zipping around on the sidewalks or roadways can be problematic," Pismo Beach Mayor Ed Waage said.
At the meeting, City Manger Jim Lewis indicated that the city would take a "wait and see" approach on the issue.
"I think there's such turmoil and issues in larger cities. ... I think we are better off to watch and see how other cities handle it," Lewis said. "The public policy just hasn't caught up with the risks and regulations."
Chief among the concerns about scooter sharing programs operating in the city were that they could be a risk to public safety. A report by city staff noted that the scooters can reach speeds of up to 15 mph, and were often used on sidewalks by riders who did not wear helmets or other protective gear.
"With this [scooter] program in place, it would make things difficult on numerous levels," Pismo Beach Police Chief Jake Miller told members of the council. "Needless to say that the rules of the road are constantly violated by these [scooters]."
Both Bird and Lime, two of the most popular motorized scooter sharing companies, have safety sections on their websites that direct riders to obey traffic safety and helmet laws. Bird's website specifically directs users not to ride on the sidewalk unless "local law requires or permits."
Miller said he saw the problems motorized scooter sharing could bring to a city firsthand on a recent visit to San Diego, including the unsightly piles of discarded scooters strewn on sidewalks and in other public areas.
"They're a mess," he said. "There were about 30 of them just stacked up in a park."
The city's staff report noted that "haphazard" placement of the scooters on sidewalks, streets, and public property can block the pedestrian right of way, impede wheelchair access, and become tripping hazards.
Other cities and their residents have expressed similar concerns, prompting VanderZanden to pen a "Save Our Sidewalk" (SOS) pledge. The three elements of the pledge include committing to a daily pickup of scooters to avoid cluttering streets and neighborhoods, not increasing the number of scooters in a city unless they are being used at least three times per day on average, and remitting $1 per vehicle, per day to city governments to build more bike lanes and promote safety. VanderZanden signed the pledge and sent it to CEOs from other scooter and bike sharing companies, including Lime, Ofo, and Jump.
"As an industry, we need to lead not only on technology, but also on social responsibility and cooperation with city governments," VanderZanden wrote.
The pledge comes after a number of cities have expressed concerns about scooters and moved to regulate or outright ban them. In September, the Los Angles City Council passed the city's first set of regulations on electric scooter sharing service companies. Closer to home, the city of SLO raised concerns with Bird after it became aware that the company had scheduled a "rogue launch," a plan to bring its scooters into SLO without seeking approval from the city. According to KCBX, the company later agreed to push back the launch and discuss the issue with city officials.
SLO Interim Deputy City Manager Greg Hermann said the city hadn't agendized any action or ban on scooters at this time.
"City staff is in the process of preparing information for the City Council to be able to discuss next steps, which could include engaging with the community to determine if this is a good fit for San Luis Obispo," he said.
At the Oct. 2 meeting, Pismo Beach officials said that worries about a similar "rogue launch" were part of the reason why the council was considering the urgency ordinance.
"Scooter sharing programs have been popping up literally overnight in some of the cities," Pismo Beach City Attorney Dave Fleishman said. "The modus operandi of some of the large operators is to bring them in large quantities and just leave them on street corners." Δ
Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.