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Santa Monica City Council Approves Emergency Law Impounding E-Scooters Posing a Public Hazard

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 8, 2018 -- Amid rising concern about public safety, the Santa Monica City Council Tuesday imposed an emergency law to impound “shared mobility” devices, such as e-scooters, when their use poses a hazard to others on the City’s streets and sidewalks.

The law is temporary and meant to rein in problems with the super-popular e-scooters while the council crafts a permanent ordinance for use of “Birds” -- named for the Santa Monica-based start-up, BirdRides, Inc. which launched the e-scooters in Santa Monica in September -- and dock-less shared-bicycles.

“Dockless” operations allow rental bikes and e-scooters to be left in any location, sometimes blocking access to others and presenting safety issues on public rights-of-way, City officials said.

"Santa Monica leads on mobility and we want to see innovative companies like Bird successfully operate here," said Mayor Ted Winterer.

"This ordinance balances public access and safety concerns with the popularity of convenient and sustainable transit choices that align with Santa Monica's multi-modal culture,” he said.

In its Tuesday vote, the City Council said it was imposing a $60 impound fee on such “shared mobility devices” when they are found to “pose an immediate hazard or obstruct access.”

The ordinance expires January 1, although officials said they expected to return to the council with long-term options regulating dockless devices well before then.

Bird’s e-scooter rental business caught on fast as alternative transit in a gridlocked downtown where everyone -- motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and bus drivers -- jockey for limited space.

Complaints soon started pouring in about t e-scooters zipping into traffic, disrupting sidewalks and bicycle lanes and causing accidents

In addition, e-scooters can be dropped and left anywhere. And they are, sometimes blocking public access.

The success of Bird has not gone smoothly, in any case, with Santa Monica’s city government.

In September, City prosecutors filed a nine-count misdemeanor criminal complaint against Bird for allegedly operating illegally in Santa Monica and repeatedly refusing to comply with city citations.

In February, the City announced it had reached a settlement with Bird Rides in which it pleaded no contest and agreed to more than $300,000 in fines as well as obtaining the proper business licenses ("Bird Rides Agrees to ‘No Contest’ Plea, More Than $300,000 in Fines in Santa Monica Case," February 15, 2018).

Staff will return to Council in the coming months for a study session to determine the components of a new regulatory framework for shared mobility devices such as e-bikes and e-scooters, including a potential pilot program.

"We are eager to collaborate with shared mobility companies to develop a longer-term regulatory approach that enhances transportation options while protecting public safety and accessibility," said Deputy City Manager Anuj Gupta.

"In the meantime, we anticipate that companies will achieve voluntary compliance by limiting their vending of devices to private property locations."
In its short tenure in Santa Monica, Bird scooters Bird have logged more than 250,000 rides.

Rides cost $1 plus 15 cents per mile.

Riders are required to have a driver’s license and wear a helmet. The scooters are now allowed to be ridden on sidewalks or the beach bike path.

Top speed is 15 miles per hour, down from 22 mph when the service debuted, and the company now provides a free helmet service.


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