Scooter Wars

First hand scooter research

Dockless e-scooters seem to be everywhere in San Diego. Love or hate them, no one here seems to be neutral about them. I personally like the e-scooters; they are a fun, convenient, clean energy transportation solution in cities. But I understand the haters, too. Thoughtless people leave them blocking sidewalks or driveways and others respond by hurling them into the road, dumpsters and bushes. People, some who seem like they have no control, careen down sidewalks, weaving between pedestrians- an accident waiting to happen. And accidents do happen.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, there are more and more “reports of injuries … include three fatalities in the region. Scooter companies say safety is their top priority and that their vehicles have injury rates similar to bicycles. A recent 13-month study of cases at three trauma centers, including two in San Diego, showed a couple of key differences: Scooter riders are more likely to forgo helmets, and they’re more likely to be intoxicated.” Another article by states that the University of San Diego Medical Center “admitted 42 people with severe injuries from electric scooter accidents. Of those, only one person was wearing a helmet. A total of 48% of those riders were measured to have a blood alcohol level higher than the legal limit for intoxication and 52% tested positive for illegal drugs.”

Dockless scooters first came to San Diego in early 2018. It was only a matter of months before every corner in the downtown and beach areas were clogged with e-scooters and e-bikes from multiple companies, encroaching on public walkways and private property.

It is a common site to see scooters laying haphazardly on the ground, over flowing the area.

Calls went out for city legislators to impose some regulations on the scooter wild west. In May of 2019, San Diego city council imposed a variety of regulations, including: permits, fees, speed limits (some as low as 3 mph), limiting access and docking to certain areas. and impoundment. Since tourists and partiers are some of the most reckless users, they banned e-scooters and e-bikes on some of the most popular beach boardwalks.

Ridership declined steeply after regulations were implemented, but it is too soon to tell whether this was correlated to the end of tourist season and winter months or as a result of the regulations.

Source of Graphic: San Diego Union-Tribune

As a result of what they view as too much regulation, declining ridership, and the need to cut costs, Lime, the first dockless e-scooter company to set up shop here is now leaving . And Uber’s Jump and San Francisco-based Skip have already left. Last year, seven companies rented e-scooters- Lime, Jump, Bird, Lyft, Skip, Spin and Wheels- now four are left in San Diego. Lime is also leaving Austin, Atlanta and Phoenix.

Source: Daniel Wheaton and Michelle Guererro, San Diego Union-Tribune

The law most hated by the companies is the impoundment policy. In order to unclog sidewalks, the city has painted over 500 “corrals” on streets around the city. E-scooters must be parked in the corrals. A company is notified and has three hours to remove stray e-scooters or or they are subject to impoundment. The city of San Diego has collected a quarter-million dollars in fees as a result of impounding more than 3,700 vehicles.

I wonder if scooter companies move other scooters out of the corrals and
replace them with their own. This looks suspiciously true…
Source: Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune

Since San Diego was one of the first cities to embrace e-scooters; cities looking to adopt e-scooters (like our hometown Ithaca, NY) would do well to pay attention to what happens here. How many companies are optimal? What regulations are needed to encourage companies to self regulate but not drive them out of town? Stay tuned!

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