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Santa Monica Banks on Future of Micro Mobility

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Have Extra Room for the Holidays 2019

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By Jorge Casuso

November 13, 2019 -- The Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to continue, and "sharpen," a pilot program for e-scooters and e-bikes credited with replacing 1.3 million car trips over the past year.

The Council voted to extend the pilot program -- which was launched in September 2018 -- through May 2020, when it will be replaced with a new program that will address safety, parking and pricing issues.

The new program will focus on removing the electric devices from the city's sidewalks, where riders pose dangers to pedestrians before leaving them to block the right-of-way.

It also will focus on making e-bikes and e-scooters -- which are especially popular among well-heeled white males -- more accessible to low-income users across the city.

"There is not a program that has been as effective" in replacing cars, said Council member Greg Morena, who plans to ditch his electric car for a personal e-bike.

"This is the right direction, and it needs to be sharpened up," he said, adding that safety "is the number one concern."

"This is a really powerful program for us for total impact," said Council member Terry O'Day.

Since launching the pilot program to tame the e-scooter craze that started in Santa Monica two years ago, 2,673,819 trips have been made on the electric devices ("E-Scooters Get Mixed Results As City's 16-Month Pilot Program Nears End," November 5, 2019).

But the e-bikes and especially the e-scooters have triggered a backlash, with only 10 percent of non-riders surveyed by the City having a favorable view of their impact.

Many of the complaints have centered on safety, as users zip around town on the electric devices, often riding on sidewalks, which is illegal.

"People ride on the sidewalk because they don't feel safe on the street," said Mayor Gleam Davis. "If we give people safe, protected lanes, they will be more liable to use them.

"Safety and parking on the sidewalks are the main concerns," Davis said, but she cautioned that the vehicles' "ubiquitousness is a plus."

"We don't want to over-regulate," she said.

To address parking, the City has designated 35 "corrals" where the vehicles can be parked on the street, and the new pilot program will explore freeing up parking spaces used by cars to accommodate more scooters and bikes.

Staff also will look at ways to penalize users who ride and park the devices illegally, although how the complaints will be filed and who will process them must be determined.

There should be "centralized complaints," said Council member Ana Jara, "but we don't want to add staff."

The pilot program should also help boost the number of low-income users by bringing the devices to neighborhoods where they are not being used.

"We actually have to go into the neighborhoods and teach people how to use these devices," Mayor Davis said. "There's a perception of who this transportation is for."

The Council also placed a high priority on using renewable sources of energy to charge the electric devices and asked staff to consider reducing the number of operators from four to two or three.

"There should be fewer operators, two or three at the most," said Council member Ted Winterer. This would make it "easier to monitor and control them."

Council members also worried about price surges -- prices have risen from 15 cents per minute to between 23 and 30 cents, after the $1 paid for the first minute.

Others were concerned about the future of the private micro-mobility industry, which is being buoyed by the promise of future profits and faces competition from new technologies.

"I'm concerned what happens when venture capital runs out," Council member Kevin McKeown said. "What will happen if suddenly this market crashes. We have to have some kind of fall back."

Jara worried imposing too many penalties on the operators could jeopardize their future in the beach City.

"We don't want to have them leave us," Jara said.

But Council member Sue Himmelrich disagreed, noting that Santa Monica's year-round sunshine and wealth of tourists makes it the last market they would leave.

"I'm not afraid they're going to be gone tomorrow," she said.

Instead, Himmelrich worried that the pilot program may give too much priority to the carrot over the stick.

"These are our streets," Himmelrich said. "We can regulate them, we can impound the scooters, cite the riders, we can cite the scooter companies.

"We need to decide what to do for the safety of our streets and we need to do it," she said.

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