The two micromobility companies dominate the Westside, but their scooter fleets are bricked today across Santa Monica in protest of the city’s move to limit the number of companies that can operate dockless vehicles there.
On Friday, the city’s planning director revealed that ride-hailing companies Lyft and Uber—which do not yet operate scooters anywhere—had submitted the top-ranked applications for a pilot program that will allow up to four companies to operate e-bike and e-scooters in Santa Monica.
“As the most experienced shared bike and scooter company in the United States, we are disappointed by the current proposal,” says a statement from Lime CEO Toby Sun.
The shutdown, dubbed “A Day Without a Scooter,” is only temporary, part of a joint campaign from Bird and Lime encouraging riders to rally at City Hall this evening.
August 14th, 2018: "Today is a day without scooters" in Santa Monica pic.twitter.com/U3yPPe0DFN— Juan Matute (@Juan_Matute) August 14, 2018
It’s the latest dockless drama as cities across the Los Angeles region scramble to deal with a flood of scooters.
Some, including West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, have totally banned them, while others, including Long Beach and Culver City, have launched regulated scooter share programs with a limited number of operators.
Los Angeles’s City Council has discussed regulations, including 12 mph speed limit for all scooters, but has not adopted any policies.
Last month, as part of its shared mobility pilot program, the city of Santa Monica started accepting applications for four potential contracts—two scooter and two e-bike operators—with a goal to begin operating in the city this fall.
Working closely with a limited number of operators will help address parking and safety issues and allow Santa Monica to develop more detailed regulations in partnership with the operators, the program’s website says.
The applications were then scored by a selection committee across seven categories, including experience, operations, and parking and safety.
Among the scooter companies that submitted applications were micromobility players Bird, Lime, and Jump, as well as Razor, which recently started operating a scooter share in Long Beach. Lime didn’t follow directions and submitted one application for both scooters and e-bikes but was not disqualified for it, according to a memo from the city’s planning director dated August 7.
The contracts haven’t been awarded yet, but the planning director's memo shows Lyft scoring first in both the scooter and e-bike categories.
Lyft’s scooters or bikes are not yet offered in any city, leading some Santa Monica residents to wonder why the city would choose a ride-hailing giant with no experience over two leading scooter companies that have operated in the city for months—and deployed scooters all over the world.
Similarly, the rankings led representatives from Bird and Lime to issue statements hinting that the companies would be shut out of the process going forward—while blasting Lyft and Uber’s inexperience.
“They want to give the entire e-scooter sharing business to car-based rideshare corporations,” says a statement from Bird. “Neither Lyft nor Uber has ever operated a scooter sharing service, and their services will be far more limited than what you have come to expect.”
Bird, which was founded in Santa Monica, was the first company to launch dockless electric scooters in the U.S. in late 2017, and now operates scooters in dozens of U.S. cities, including Long Beach and Culver City.
Lime, which launched dockless pedal bikes in Santa Monica last year, then added e-bikes and scooters, is operating in 70 cities worldwide, including city-regulated scooter partnerships in Long Beach, Monrovia, and Culver City.
The 2018 remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” pic.twitter.com/8EZvkUfbsO— Madeline Eskind (@mdeskind) August 7, 2018
Bird recently announced a plan to work with cities globally to fund and build bike lanes, including a proposal to contribute $1 per vehicle per day to accelerate the construction of bike lanes in Santa Monica. (City manager Rick Cole clarified via Twitter that although Bird had expressed intent to fund lanes, the funds have not yet been collected.) But the last few months have seen a slew of bad local press for the company, including a Los Angeles Times article about how residents are so frustrated by the scooters, they’re setting them on fire and “burying them at sea.”
At the same time, Uber and Lyft have pivoted towards more multimodal, less car-focused forms of transportation, including redesigning their apps to help riders connect with available dockless bikes and scooters.
Last month, just after Lyft bought Motivate, the country’s largest bike-share operator, its founders announced that Lyft Scooter and Lyft Bikes were in development. Lyft also announced a comprehensive safety initiative to eliminate traffic deaths and incentives for rides which connect to public transit.
Lyft spokesperson Alex Rafter directed Curbed to the company’s San Francisco micromobility application for reference, which includes comprehensive equity programs for low-income riders and designated parking zones for scooters.
Uber also applied for San Francisco's micromobility pilot but has a strong Southern California connection. Since 2015, Jump’s technology has been used by Santa Monica’s Breeze Bike Share, a smart pedal bike system that has dedicated docking areas but can also be locked to any bike rack. Jump’s locking mechanisms could skirt many of the issues around where dockless vehicles are stored between rides, preventing riders from blocking sidewalks or entrances to buildings.
“This is the best of both worlds—we’re familiar with dockless bike share and Santa Monica was an early adopter of that technology,” says Jump CEO Ryan Rzepecki. “We have data going back several years seeing how the bikes are being used.”
The ability to use Uber’s app to connect bike and scooter trips with ride-hailing and public transit is also important in a city like Santa Monica, noted Rzepecki. According to data released by Uber last month, Jump riders in San Francisco are sometimes choosing e-bikes over car trips. “This is about how do we build a multimodal vision.”
Jump does not have scooters in its fleet yet, but Rzepecki confirmed that the scooter which would be used for the Santa Monica pilot would be a new Jump-branded scooter, not part of Uber’s existing partnership with Lime’s scooters. Jump’s San Francisco scooter proposal also showed docking racks for scooters.
Santa Monica!— Lime (@limebike) August 14, 2018
We've taken our fleet offline until 4:30pm locally in order to rally your support in opposition to the council's recommendation. Don't let a #LifeWithoutScooters be the future. Help City Hall make the right decision + take action right now: https://t.co/PiuR9pwk4y
In an email that Bird sent to its Santa Monica riders last night, the company claims that a “small city-appointed selection committee” in a “closed-door meeting” will ban Bird from Santa Monica in September. It encourages riders to show up at Santa Monica’s City Hall at 5 p.m. today to “let city leaders know how much you have come to depend on Bird.”
But there is no planned discussion this evening about the scooter pilot, says city spokesperson Constance Farrell.
“So if people come down expecting to give public comment, there isn’t a forum to do that unless they wait out the entirety of the meeting,” she says, which she estimates will be between 11 p.m. and midnight, when comments for non-agenda items are allowed.
Instead, Farrell encourages riders to provide public comments through the shared mobility website, and notes that the rankings are not the last word.
Santa Monica plans to publish all the applications online this week, and a selection committee will consider all public comments as part of the final decision, which will be announced August 30, she says.
“We’re midway through the process for releasing these recommendations,” Farrell says.