Los Angeles lawmakers vote to allow scooters—but with limits

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The Los Angeles City Council approved a new set of regulations Tuesday allowing dockless scooter companies to continue operating within the city—with some key limitations.

Eventually, each company will be allowed to deploy up to 10,500 dockless scooters and bikes. That number could climb if companies cooperate with transportation officials in ensuring that bikes and scooters aren’t blocking city sidewalks.

“The future is here,” Councilmember Joe Buscaino said on Twitter. “Los Angeles must create citywide multimodal infrastructure to reduce traffic, link people to public transit, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

It’s likely that a dozen companies will want to operate in Los Angeles, says Seleta Reynolds, general manager of the city’s transportation department. That’s about how many applied to run in Santa Monica, which just last week put a temporary cap on the number of companies allowed to operate in its borders.

Right now, LA’s scooter market is dominated by two companies: Bird and Lime. Reynolds says that Bird representatives estimate that 15,000 of the company’s scooters have been deployed citywide.

The new regulations, which also apply to dockless bikes, won’t take effect right away. While city officials finalize the language of the policy, companies will have to apply for temporary permits to operate.

During this time, they’ll each be limited to 3,000 vehicles across the city—except in two council districts—District 15 and District Four—where pilot programs are already underway. In these districts, there won’t be a limit on the number of vehicles companies are allowed to distribute for the next four months.

During this time, councilmembers will also have some leeway to determine where riders are or are not allowed to pilot the vehicles. Though the vehicles can be rented and dropped off nearly anywhere, companies can “geofence” restricted parts of the city, preventing riders from traveling in those places.

David Graham-Caso, spokesperson for Councilmember Mike Bonin, tells Curbed that LA’s transportation department will begin issuing temporary permits almost immediately.

The new ruleswill also mandate a 15 mile per hour speed limit for electric scooters (Bird scooters already max out at this speed). Companies will also be required to keep vehicles in good working condition and to remove vehicles blocking sidewalks, or risk losing licenses to operate.

Under the regulations, dockless companies will have to establish 24-hour hotlines so that people can report bikes and scooters that aren’t working or are blocking the public right-of-way.

They’ll also have to pay for the right to operate within Los Angeles. Annual permits will cost $20,000, and companies will also have to pay an addition $130 fee per vehicle—though the fees are lower in low-income areas.

The bikes and scooters, which can be rented with a smartphone and do not have to be picked up or dropped off at a station or “dock,” have so far existed in a state of legal uncertainty.

Last month the City Council’s public safety committee rejected a proposed citywide ban on electric scooters that would have remained in place until the new rules take effect.

At the same time though, committee chair Mitchell Englander asked transportation officials to send cease and desist letters to dockless companies operating outside of approved pilot areas.

The new regulations clear up some of these issues. LA officials, however, continue to spar over local enforcement of statewide rules for riders, including requirements that riders are over the age of 18, wear helmets, and do not operate scooters on sidewalks.

“We do know there are safety concerns … but we can’t regulate stupidity,” said Buscaino.

He said the city should continue to encourage riders to “wear a helmet.”

But Councilmember Paul Krekorian said a stricter policy was necessary to ensure riders use the vehicles safely.

“We plan for stupidity and we try to protect people from their own stupidity,” Krekorian said. “We have to do that with this new technology as well.”

A state bill that would remove the helmet requirement was approved by the California legislature last week and now awaits the governor’s signature.

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