Over the past few months, the dockless electric scooter movement has swept across Southern California. We don’t know whether this is just a fad like the Segway or a long-term addition to our transportation landscape. Like other cities, Los Angeles is grappling with how to facilitate this new alternative transport mode, while also ensuring public safety and common sense regulations. I believe that dockless scooters, as well as other personal mobility services such as electric bicycles, have a future in Los Angeles and can be an asset to our transportation network, but require strong safety regulations and accountability.
Many Angelenos are zipping around town on these scooters-and they appear to be having a lot of fun. I was recently running late for a meeting; I pulled out my phone, opened an app, rented a scooter, and rolled to my destination without using a car, without breaking a sweat, and with a smile on my face. These scooters can be a game changer.
Los Angeles needs alternatives to driving, including electric scooters. Cars generate up to a third of our greenhouse gas emissions, which concerns me as an environmentalist committed to battling climate change. We suffer from crushing traffic congestion, yet nearly half of all trips in the Los Angeles area are less than 3 miles. Scooters can take cars off the road, and can be especially useful for ‘first and last mile’ connections between transit stations and our homes, jobs and schools.
At the same time, electric scooters create serious challenges for cities. Partly because our streets do not feel safe for scooters, many people ride them on sidewalks, which is against the law and creates hazards for pedestrians. Improperly parked scooters can block sidewalks, a real problem for those with mobility impairments and also an unsightly clutter that can make our streets look unkempt. Most people ride without required helmets. These combine to create concerns that the City could face liability from scooter crashes; we already pay out tremendous amounts of money for sidewalk trip and falls and pothole related crashes.
Los Angeles is in the process of adopting scooter regulations and must act quickly to keep up with the public demand for scooters. The City Council’s Transportation Committee has approved tentative recommendations, including a maximum fleet size of about 5,000 scooters with half in underserved communities, a 12mph speed limit, data sharing requirements, and procedures for holding dockless mobility companies accountable. These recommendations will come to the Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee, which I chair, on August 15th for further review.
Though the scooters are fun to ride, they are not toys. I want to ensure that the City’s regulations include strong enforcement mechanisms and tools to minimize our potential legal liability, before sending these regulations to a vote of the full City Council. At the same time, I recognize that the City’s control of its streets and sidewalks require it to play an important role in providing safe streets and adequate parking for scooters and bikes. My specific concerns that have not yet been addressed include how to make sure young children don’t use them in public rights of way, ensuring that riders abide by standard traffic laws and developing protocols for riding at night. Another key element that has been discussed but must be cemented in policy is how to protect your tax dollars and ensure that the City is indemnified if there is a collision. At the end of the day, a law that is unenforceable is meaningless. Once regulations are adopted, it is imperative that the scooter companies engage in a comprehensive education and awareness campaign, in coordination with the City and LAPD, so riders and pedestrians know the rules, penalties and how to share the roads responsibly. Importantly, drivers in Los Angeles need to be taught how to safely share streets as well.
A few years ago, the City faced the issue of regulating rideshare vehicles at LAX. Much like today with scooters, some said “ban them completely” while others claimed that they weren’t causing any problems at all and should be allowed without regulations. As the former chair of the committee that oversaw local airports, I brought all the stakeholders together to air their concerns and our effort resulted in a win for consumers, rideshare platforms and LAX. Programmers built a virtual geo-fence so drivers would not circle through the airport, but instead must wait outside until they are hailed and then quickly and effectively pick up their riders. Now, almost three years later, rideshare mobility is even more popular and smoothly working within the rules at LAX. We need to approach the scooter issue with a similar approach and creatively integrate new technology and innovation into our City fabric.
The City must act with a sense of urgency to create a regulatory framework that protects riders and pedestrians, and which is workable and enforceable. Banning dockless scooters when demand plainly exists, or failing to create a pathway for operators that play by the rules, would be an abandonment of the City’s obligations to its residents. Los Angeles is poised to be a leader in responsible regulation of dockless scooters, and we should not squander but embrace that opportunity.