Scooters may be here to stay: Leaders to draft new laws and expand availability

E-scooters in Long Beach appear to be here to stay. 

Leaders on Tuesday called for permanent city regulations that would set rules for vendors, and also end a pilot program that has allowed the businesses to operate in the city for roughly the past year.

The City Council vote will dramatically increase the number of scooters that are available in the city, potentially pushing the total to 6,000 scooters after a six-month review process. The city currently has less than 2,000 scooters in its boundaries. An initial bump to 4,000 will go into effect after the ordinance is signed into law, with the potential for another expansion next year to 6,000.

With the unanimous vote, vendors will also have to begin paying for business permits to operate in Long Beach.

The annual cost per vendor will be $25,000 with an additional per-scooter fee of $100. The new ordinance would limit the number of vendors to six across the city so long as they’re able to meet requirements laid out in the ordinance, including the ability to “geo-fence” areas of the city by using the GPS devices on the scooters to slow down individual riders or prevent them from entering certain parts of the city entirely.

More scooters are headed to Long Beach after leaders expand pilot program

“Not only is it a priority, it’s an absolute requirement under the new program,” said Department of Public Works Director Craig Beck. “If a vendor does not have the ability to limit or restrict scooter access in certain ares of the city that we designate, then they’re not going to be issued a permit.”

The council had originally asked for a reduced per-scooter fee of $40 for those deployed in disadvantaged areas of the city. Staff, however, said that due to receiving bad data from the scooter vendors during the pilot program, it was difficult to prove where scooters were being deployed, making it hard to enforce different fee levels based on location.

While the ordinance has yet to be written and finalized by the City Council, Councilman Rex Richardson pushed for more equity in whatever regulations are drafted. He asked for 40 percent of scooters in the city be deployed in low-income portions of the city.

“We’ve done the ‘Hopes and Dreams,’” Richardson said. “We hope the market drives things to go in certain areas but there are too many factors. … We have to write into the policy on Day One that this is something that’s useful to people who actually need it as a transit solution.”

Under the pilot program, scooters were supposed to be equally deployed throughout the city. But higher concentrations of scooters were found in the coastal districts.

Council members representing those areas have been the loudest advocates of more regulation, saying scooters had become a blight and a safety hazard for neighborhoods.

Councilwoman Suzie Price, who represents southeast Long Beach, called for the city’s GoLongBeach app to allow residents to report abandoned scooters to the city like they would other illegally dumped items.

She also called the Long Beach Police Department to take part in enforcing scooter issues, like riding on the sidewalks and other traffic violations. This could take shape as a once-a-month day of enforcement and could be dependent on leftover revenue created by the scooter program to pay for police enforcement.

“I just want to make sure that I’m not begging for directed enforcement every month if there’s a need,” Price said. “I want to see that it’s baked into this policy and we have some resources that we’re setting aside for that.”

If the city expands to six vendors and reaches the full capacity of 6,000 scooters, revenues could reach about $600,000 per year, according to a city staff report. The money would be put into the city’s general fund and go toward funding a “mico-mobility” coordinator to oversee the city’s permanent scooter program.

Representatives from Bird and Lime, two of the largest vendors in the city, expressed support for the ordinance, with minor requests like having permit applicants physically demonstrate their geo-fencing capabilities before being approved.

Karla Owunwanne, a community affairs manager for Lime, asked that the forthcoming ordinance specifically spell out what vendors are required to do in order to better allow them to operate in compliance with city laws and reiterated Lime’s stance that a per-ride fee instead of an annual per-scooter fee would be mutually beneficial to vendors and the city.

“This [per-ride fees] allows the city to capture revenue from all rides and encourage equitable distribution of scooters across the city,” Owunwanne said. “If ridership numbers from recent months are taken into consideration the per-trip fee would in fact generate more money than what is currently being proposed.”

An ordinance is expected to be drafted in the coming months, with an anticipated start date of the program to start this summer. That would trigger the six-month reporting period that the city would undertake before bringing back data to the City Council early next year for a vote that would determine if the scooter program expands from 4,000 units to 6,000.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.