Scooters have begun to re-appear in nearly every city—why not Long Beach?

E-scooter companies Bird and Lime say they are facing an uphill battle in getting their scooter fleets back onto the streets of Long Beach despite increasing evidence that they are a safe way to travel during the COVID-19 health pandemic and are garnering endorsements from the state and City of Los Angeles as essential services.

Long Beach and Miami are the only two cities in the world where Lime and Bird’s e-scooter fleets have not been redistributed.

“They’re open-air forms of transit, they’re single-occupancy, and we’ve even begun offering free rides to essential workers,” said Tim Harter of Bird. “They’re even beneficial toward economic recovery: A huge portion of our rides ends at businesses; we know many of our riders use them to support local businesses. The choice to keep them off the streets of Long Beach is, admittedly, frustrating.”

So why is Long Beach lagging on releasing the scooters? The city’s health orders bars them, since both scooters and bikes and are shared and touched frequently, according to City Manage Tom Modica.

“We recently allowed rentals again, but only with an attendant who can wipe them down between uses,” he said. “After consultation with the health officer, we are working on allowing scooters again, under the new permanent program, and with some COVID safety protocols.”

The desire to get scooters back on the streets in Long Beach is one that seems to stretch across multiple departments.

Craig Beck of Public Works said that while he was “a strong supporter of micro-mobility, right now it is not allowed as an issue of public health—and it was not my decision and not mine to change. What I can say is that once the decision is made to move forward with micro-mobility, the Public Works team will be ready to implement.”

Kelly Colopy, director of the city’s health department, said her office is looking into why the health order hasn’t matched that of the City of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles, and the State of California’s own proclamations that scooters are an essential service and viable form of transit during the pandemic.

A Lime official said residents need methods of transportation that allow for social distancing.

“We really want to continue to work with the city, especially as other businesses open so we can get folks to support those businesses,” said Karla Owunwanne, Lime’s Senior Government Relations Manager.

The push to get scooters back on the street has been an arduous endeavor on behalf of scooter companies: Bird, Lime, Razor, and others voluntarily took their fleets off the streets due to initial fears that surface transmissions would increase cases and easy access to scooters would limit social distancing practices.

However, CDC guidelines currently note that surface transmission is not thought to be a primary way that COVID spreads.

To counter Modica’s point about an attendant who cleans the equipment, scooter companies have a guidelines that let the public know how they sanitize scooters, like this informational sheet from Lime. Lime even partnered with Dr. Mauro Montevecchi of OSF HealthCare to issue a white paper outlining the possible transmission risk factors—of which, according to Montevecchi, scooters are not a part of—and the science behind low-risk shared mobility options—of which, according to Montevecchi, scooters are a part of.

“Many municipalities have deemed our services essential,” Owunwanne said. “Most cities never asked us to stop operating; we did so initially out of an abundance of caution. But the reality is that every city should be working to give its residents as many safe and healthy transit options as possible.”

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.
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