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LA leaders say scooter companies must ‘step up and do better’

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City councilmembers aren’t impressed with the results of a pilot program regulating the devices

A pilot program regulating scooters in the city of Los Angeles began in March.
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Three months into a new permitting program regulating dockless bikes and scooters on the streets of Los Angeles, city leaders expressed frustration Wednesday with the results of the one-year pilot so far.

“I don’t think any of the scooter companies are living up to the expectations I hoped they’d be at at this point,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin at a meeting of the council’s transportation committee.

Bonin, who heads the committee, has been a key supporter of the bikes and scooters, which began popping up last year on Westside sidewalks and quickly spread to other parts of the city. But this week, he complained that coastal neighborhoods in his district have become oversaturated with the electric devices.

He also complained that vehicles continue to be parked improperly despite city rules requiring companies to move them when they block access to sidewalks or create tripping hazards.

Meanwhile, Uber and other companies have challenged the city on its right to collect data on the locations of scooters, which transportation officials say they need to assess the success of the program.

“Everyone’s trying to prove this works,” said Bonin. “So if these companies really want this to work, step up and do better.”

Councilmember Paul Koretz, a strong critic of the program who last year proposed a total ban on electric scooters, said he’d still like to see the devices go away.

“I would love to completely get rid of these, and that’s my goal,” Koretz said, citing concerns about safety.

“I think there’s no safe place to ride them,” he said. “It’s unsafe for pedestrians when [scooter users] ride them on sidewalks, but I think it’s unsafe for the scooter riders when they ride them in the streets.”

Koretz suggested that a “robust” network of bike lanes would make the vehicles more viable, but argued that such a system might not be possible in Los Angeles because “some streets just don’t have the room.”

Councilmember Gil Cedillo has also been a frequent critic of the devices, and in March proposed barring them from his district. On Wednesday, he asked the transportation committee to delay a vote on that motion to a future meeting.

Since being introduced in the Los Angeles area, the scooters, which can be easily rented through a mobile app, have inspired fierce debate among residents and elected officials.

To critics, they are little more than dangerous toys that create clutter on sidewalks and impede the passage of those with disabilities. To advocates, they are convenient, eco-friendly mobility devices that encourage people to connect to transit and leave their cars at home.

“I can’t begin to tell you how I’ve been empowered by these things,” Downtown resident Mike Louaillier told the committee Wednesday. “I’m never going to get a car.”

Under the terms of LA’s year-long pilot, which began in March, eight companies have been authorized to deploy a combined 36,170 devices (a mix of scooters and electric bikes) throughout the city.

A report from the city’s transportation department shows the vehicles have gotten a fair amount of use. Between December 31 and April 15 (when companies only had conditional permits and could deploy fewer vehicles), users took nearly 1.9 million rides on the devices.

And since a reporting system was introduced, in which residents can alert the city about improperly parked bikes and scooters, 3,137 requests have been made to LA’s 311 system.

Companies are required to respond to these reports within two hours or face fines. If they ignore requests for too long, devices can be impounded—though this step hasn’t been necessary so far, according to the transportation department.

The report also indicates that scooter crashes have become a frequent occurrence. The Los Angeles Police Department recorded 52 scooter collisions between January 1 and April 27. In the time between January 1 and May 25, the Los Angeles Fire Department created 80 electronic reports detailing medical treatments to those injured while riding scooters.

A UCLA report released earlier this year analyzed 228 scooter-related injuries treated at three emergency rooms over a year-long period between 2017 and 2018.

Bonin said Wednesday that numbers like these might seem less alarming if placed into the larger context of street safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. According to the city’s Vision Zero program, a campaign to end traffic deaths by 2025, around 95 traffic collisions occur per day within city limits. In 2013 alone, nearly 1,500 people were killed or severely injured in such crashes.

Bonin requested that transportation include data on bike and pedestrian injuries in future reports to better assess the true safety hazards of scooters. The full transportation committee also asked scooter companies to work with law enforcement to track down users in the event that a scooter rider should collide with a pedestrian and flee from the scene.

The UCLA report indicated that 8 percent of those injured in scooter crashes were non-riders.

Bonin made it clear he expected companies to work with city officials or risk losing out on the chance to do business in Los Angeles.

“If the companies can’t behave themselves, there are going to be more than two councilmembers interested in seeing this thing go away,” he warned.