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Scooter Frustrations and Sharp Ridership Falloff

The California city released a data report that shows a 50 percent decline in scooter ridership since July. The city seems unbothered by scooter companies’ complaints, considers new rules to implement.

(TNS) — It might be the change in the seasons, but since the city of San Diego put its rules for dockless e-scooters in place this summer ridership has been plummeting.

From July to October the number of trips using shared-mobility devices dropped by 50 percent — with rides taken over a two-week time frame going from 441,830 down to 222,076, according to data recently released by the city.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office, which has touted the scooters as a green alternative to driving, has yet to express concern about the ridership decline. Officials have suggested the dip is likely due to tourism tapering off as winter approaches.

It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on since the city only started collecting data from the industry this summer, more than a year after many companies first showed up in San Diego.

However, scooter companies operating in San Diego have increasingly voiced frustration with the city’s new regulations, and Uber’s Jump and the San Francisco-based Skip recently left town complaining about the rules.

Faulconer’s team recently said it plans to release a regulation-reform package next month, aimed at addressing everything from drunken riding to industry concerns that certain rules have become overly burdensome.

“We’re learning a lot of lessons from the last six months, and we are looking forward to enhancing the program as much as we can,” said Lee Friedman, the mayor’s infrastructure policy manager, at a recent public hearing.

The city has found that more than half of rides on shared-mobility devices, such as Lime and Bird scooters, occur between the hours of 4 p.m. and midnight.

“There’s the idea for a potential curfew,” Friedman said. “We know that after a certain hour, these devices are being used in areas where DUIs are more common.”

Perhaps most notably, companies have been grumbling over San Diego’s policies around impounding devices.

The city reserves the right to seize parked scooters for several reasons, from obstructing car traffic to clogging sidewalks to blocking ramps for the disabled. It has collected roughly a quarter-million dollars in fees as a result of impounding more than 3,700 vehicles.

To get scooters out of pedestrian paths, officials have painted more than 500 parking corrals on streets next to curbs across the city. Scooters can be picked up and dropped off inside the designated spaces to ensure compliance with city regulations. There are plans to create another 200 corrals in and around downtown in coming months.

Still, tension between companies and local authorities continues, particularly downtown where scooters are only allowed to be parked in corrals. If users leave the devices on the sidewalk, the scooter companies are notified and given three hours to remove them before the vehicles are impounded.

If a rider leaves a device in the street outside of a parking corral, the device is immediately removed to prevent a traffic accident. Officials said this is the most common reason devices are impounded.

That arrangement has left scooter operators frustrated.

“Frankly, the way the regulations are being set right now, it makes the operating environment not sustainable for operators because impounding is expensive, it’s rampant and, frankly, there’s not a lot of transparency,” Kimia Talebian, general manager for Lime in San Diego, told members of the City Council on Wednesday at a meeting of the Active Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

City officials have recognized that the situation limits the convenience of using scooters downtown but maintained that the rules are necessary to protect public safety.

“A way to avoid (impounding) is for the companies to proactively look after their devices,” said Barbara Lamb, deputy director at the Environmental Services Department. “They have apps that can see where their devices are, and some have contractors that tidy things up.”

Another concern among operators are the city’s so-called slow zones along the boardwalk in Mission Beach, the Embarcadero, Piazza della Famiglia in Little Italy and throughout Balboa Park. In these areas, companies are required to use geofencing technology to automatically cap speeds at 3 mph, down from 15 mph.

Tim Harder, senior manager for government partnerships with Bird, said that since the regulations took effect, the company has paid more than $65,000 in impound fees, and ridership in and around Balboa Park has dropped by 80 percent.

Harder told the councilmembers at Wednesday’s public hearing that the city’s rules were making operating in San Diego “very challenging.”

“An overwhelming number of riders expressed that slower riding makes them feel less safe to ride, likely due to not being the same speed as other vehicles,” he said.

The city has issued violation notices to five companies, including Bird, for not complying with the geofencing rules. While the operators have since come into compliance, Lime is now facing a revocation of its six-month permit as a result of multiple violations.

While there are 22,000 devices permitted for operation in the city, operators were collectively deploying about 12,200 a day as of September.

©2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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