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LA moves forward with regulations for dockless bikes and scooters

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The rules would limit the number of vehicles companies can put on city sidewalks

Bird scooter
A dockless scooter parked in Hollywood.
Photo by Elijah Chiland

The Los Angeles City Council is crafting new rules to regulate dockless bikes and electric scooters, and the policy will likely limit how many vehicles companies can disperse on city streets and sidewalks.

The bikes and scooters, which can be rented through a smartphone app and left on the curb once a ride is finished, have become a common sight on the Westside. More recently, they’ve begun popping up in more central neighborhoods as well, like Hollywood and—briefly—the Arts District.

The dockless vehicles have attracted plenty of riders, but not everyone is happy with the new bikes and scooters. Critics complain that riders hog the pedestrian right-of-way and leave vehicles haphazardly dispersed on sidewalks.

After being flooded with dockless vehicles last year, the city of Santa Monica approved regulations on “shared mobility devices” earlier this month. Los Angeles officials are now considering similar guidelines that would address concerns about the vehicles, while allowing companies to expand into new areas.

At least one councilmember wants to entice dockless providers to set up shop in the auto-centric San Fernando Valley.

“I don’t have any dockless bicycles or scooters or any of that fancy stuff,” said Councilmember Nury Martinez, who represents much of the central Valley, in a city transportation committee meeting last month. “We’re simply trying to cross the street without getting killed.”

On Wednesday, the committee approved preliminary regulations for the vehicles, including a cap that limits the number of vehicles companies can deploy in the city to 3,000. That number could go up if companies agree to serve areas they might otherwise have ignored.

If companies expand operations into “disadvantaged communities,” lower-income areas identified by the California Environmental Protection Agency, they would be able to add an additional 2,500 vehicles to their fleet—to be deployed in those areas. At Martinez’ request, the number of additional vehicles would be double that in the Valley.

That means that companies could put up to 8,000 bikes on city streets, as long as 5,000 of them were in low-income neighborhoods in the Valley.

Such a large incentive may seem like a dramatic step, but transportation department officials told the committee that luring companies away from more affluent areas in the LA Basin could otherwise be a challenge.

The cap on fleet size wouldn’t be the only rule companies have to abide by. The guidelines recommended Wednesday also impose safety standards on vehicles, requiring them to have lights and reflectors, and for electric vehicles to have working motors.

Companies would also have to provide ridership data to the city and will be responsible for ensuring that vehicles are parked in appropriate places where they don’t block the path of pedestrians.

The rules still need to be approved by the full City Council before going into effect. Even then, they won’t be set in stone. Transportation officials would have leeway to adjust limits on fleet size, should companies provide data that proves their vehicles are popular enough that more are needed.

Councilmember Mike Bonin, who leads the transportation committee, stressed the importance of ensuring residents aren’t overwhelmed by the number of new bikes and scooters in their neighborhoods.

“This is an exciting new mobility option for Los Angeles,” said Bonin Wednesday. “If we don’t strike the right balance, it won’t succeed.”