The number of e-scooters in Long Beach is set to more than double after the City Council voted Tuesday night to expand a pilot program while a more permanent version of it is evaluated by city officials.
A fleet that currently includes 1,800 scooters citywide will be able to grow by up to 4,000 during the extended pilot period, but could increase again to 6,000 after a review period that’s expected to conclude in six months. The council would first have to adopt an ordinance written by the city attorney in coming weeks.
But Public Works Director Craig Beck said Long Beach residents shouldn’t expect a flood of scooters in their neighborhood anytime soon.
“Nothing is going to happen overnight,” Beck said. “We’re not going to go from our current deployment [1,800] to 4,000 in a night or weeks. I would say weeks and maybe months to get there.”
Part of the new program will include the creation of a pricing system for vendors, who would pay to operate in the city. The current proposal puts those figures at $25,000 annually for a permit and $120 per scooter deployed in the city. A reduced fee of $40 per scooter would apply to those dropped in low-income neighborhoods.
The new program would also limit the number of vendors to four, eliminating two vendors that are now permitted to operate in the city under the pilot program.
While Tuesday’s vote was unanimous (8-0), some council members raised concerns such as how to police those who break the law by riding on sidewalks or on streets not designated for scooter use—and how those problems may be exacerbated by more devices on the streets.
Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, who represents East Long Beach, even suggested that the city might take to deputizing residents to ensure that the rules are being followed.
“It’s kind of like people are always obeying the law if cops are there; if we had community members that are deputized that might be helpful,” Mungo said.
The recommendation was ultimately not incorporated into the final vote, but leaders did agree that funding from scooter fees would first go toward hiring new city staff to enforce the rules governing scooters.
According to city data collected during the pilot program that started last July, Long Beach Police Department officers issued just 17 citations for scooters being ridden on the sidewalk. The majority of citations were issued for riders using scooters without helmets, an offense that was decriminalized by a state law last year.
Representatives from Bird and Lime, two of the largest scooter providers operating in the city, said fees suggested by city staff might ultimately lead to higher prices passed on to customers.
Scooter operators in the city did not pay fees or permit costs during the pilot program.
“If we want to get more people out of cars, we ask you to let us keep our business sustainable,” said Tim Harder, a representative for Bird. “The proposed staff fees will take operators much longer to bring access to all of Long Beach.”
He pointed to the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, which has raised its per-scooter fee to $200 annually. Harder said that forced Bird to raise its price to unlock parked scooters from $1 to $3.
Karla Owunwanne, a community affairs manager for Lime, said her company is constantly evaluating the impacts of higher fees and asked that the City Council look to a per-ride based fee instead of a per-scooter fee.
Beck said the fees were based on what other area cities have done, and warned the council not to drop them too far below staff recommendations as the revenue used would go toward both hiring enforcement officers and improving infrastructure (bike lanes, sidewalks) that could improve the experiences of pedestrians and scooter riders.
After an official ordinance is drafted, it will go before council again for approval. Beck said that then the city could start accepting applications, identify preferred vendors and then implement the rollout of thousands of more scooters.
The City Council is expected to review the effectiveness of the ordinance and the expanded scooter deployment six months later.
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