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Business & Economy

Los Angeles, other California cities have a rentable motorized scooter problem




A user rides a Spin scooter on April 17, 2018 in San Francisco.
A user rides a Spin scooter on April 17, 2018 in San Francisco.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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In case you haven’t heard, the latest public nuisance facing the city San Francisco takes the form of undocked motorized scooters — and it's affecting other California cities too. The issue: the scooters aren’t regulated yet, and users aren’t exactly following the rules.

Over the past few months, electric scooters that users can rent through apps have started popping up and taking off in cities across the country. The idea: the scooters are an affordable and sometimes even faster alternative to driving, especially during rush hour. After paying $1 to unlock the scooter, users pay a 15 cents per minute and can travel about 15 miles an hour.

San Francisco’s city attorney sent cease and desist letters to three companies that rent and own the electric scooters, including Venice-based company Bird. The letter instructs the companies and their users to stop unlawful conduct like riding on sidewalks and leaving the scooters on pedestrian pathways instead of parking them appropriately.

Scooter tweet 1

San Francisco supervisors voted Tuesday to require the companies to get city permits before they can legally operate, the Associated Press reports. City Attorney Dennis Herrera says his office has received numerous complaints against LimeBike, Bird and Spin.

The e-scooters are also popular in Southern California cities like Santa Monica. “Birds” (as Bird calls their scooters) started popping up around Santa Monica last September, leading the city to file a criminal complaint against the company in December for operating without a business license after it “repeatedly refused to comply with City citations.”

Bird settled with Santa Monica in early February, agreeing to pay more than $300,000 in fines and obtaining the appropriate business licenses needed to operate — but it looks like their troubles are far from over, with safety issues being raised by both cities and their residents.

“We respect the city wanting to get this right and we’re working with them to fix the problems that they’ve cited in the letter,” Bird’s chief legal officer and head of government relations told AirTalk. “So we’re currently looking at, ‘What can we do to help user education?’”

Bird and Lime scooters sit parked in front of a building on April 17, 2018 in San Francisco.
Bird and Lime scooters sit parked in front of a building on April 17, 2018 in San Francisco.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

We asked AirTalk listeners about their experiences with the increasingly popular electric scooters:

Susan in Santa Monica was injured by an electric scooter in a crash earlier this year. She didn’t know who to call to make a complaint.

I was hit by a scooter rider in front of the Santa Monica co-op about three months ago right on the sidewalk and he flattened me. I still have the treadmarks on the toe of my boot and it’s a real hazard just like with cyclists and skateboarders, because they move fast and I don’t know what they’re doing, but they’re not looking.

Antonette in Santa Monica has mixed mobility, so she uses crutches and wheelchairs to get around.  She said she’s had a lot of nearly missed crashes with people riding electric scooters.

It’s beyond a nuisance, it’s turned into a real serious public health concern for anyone who’s disabled... They don’t actually know how to ride them and control them very well, so seriously, it’s been terrifying having these scooters swerve into me or a guy jump off right before hitting me. It’s really really frightening.

Christine in Santa Monica owns retail property in the city and her business tenants are having issues with Bird dropping their rental scooters off in their parking lot every morning.

My tenants have called and have said that they’ve lost their parking spaces for their customers, due to these people who want to actually rent these scooters, and so I’ve had to call a towing company to have them tow these vehicles — but Bird keeps constantly re-dropping them off on our private lot without any permission.

Scooter tweet 2

Grace in Culver City works in downtown Santa Monica and often runs errands for the company during the day. She’s mostly worried about how riders aren’t obeying traffic laws.

Quite frequently I’ve seen the Bird riders – these are not the minors, these are the adults – going right through the signals. They’re not stopping for traffic signs and going right through major intersections where there’s lights. They’re going against traffic, and you can’t hear them, so I’ve had a number of near misses.

Chris messaged AirTalk’s Facebook page about a hotel across from the Hammer Museum that has these electric scooters.

We were walking down the block to the Museum and I saw a son and father fall off three times within a block. Clearly there’s no training on how to use and if used by hotel visitors, they aren’t aware on rules in L.A. on using them. Hotels should have required training.

Elliott in Santa Monica has a car, but he uses Bird scooters around three times a week to go to class at Santa Monica College. He said on a given day, the scooter only costs him about $3 or $4 total to rent.

They’re a great way to get around the campus and a great way to get around the city because there’s just so little parking around. And I actually haven’t seen the Bird scooters be that much of a nuisance – even if they’re in the pedestrian park lane, you just walk around. It’s not a big deal… Usually they’re left around campus or right next to campus there are a lot of Hulu parking spots for the bikes and they just leave them right next to the bike racks and you just pick them up and just head over wherever you want to go.

Ilona in Mar Vista is a fan of Bird scooters and has ridden them before, but agrees some users’ behavior create issues. Larry read her comment on the air.

I love Bird scooters. They’re fantastic, easy to use, but I’m discouraged when I see them on the sidewalk. Maybe Bird should have a user tutorial before downloading the app.

Guests:

Kevin Truong, reporter and multimedia producer for the San Francisco Business Times who has been following the story

David Estrada, chief legal officer and head of government relations at Bird, the Venice-based e-scooter company which has been served a cease and desist letter by the City Attorney of San Francisco

This story has been updated.