New E-Scooter Regulations Dampen the User Experience

SpeakEasy: Downtown San Diego now has far fewer scooters that meet city compliance laws. The results are a mixed-bag

EFFECTS OF THE electric scooter backlash have arrived.

As e-scooter providers struggle to comply with tighter new city regulations there has been a marked decrease in riders’ user experience.

Groups like Safe Walkways SD scored a major legislative victory recently after lobbying the city for scooter regulation over the past few years.

The group complained that riders rode dangerously on streets and on sidewalks and left scooters strewn haphazardly across the landscape.

It was true, and the city responded.

New rules took effect August 1. Now, only four scooter companies are permitted to operate in San Diego. The total scooter fleet has been reduced from 12,000 to a maximum of 8,000.

Much fewer than that are on the streets right now. During the first week of August, only Bird scooters have been observed in use in downtown San Diego.

Two companies–Link and Spin–are reportedly having trouble deploying scooters equipped with the required new technology that keeps them from operating on sidewalks and only being parked in designated corrals.

Lime is pausing operations.

“San Diego is asking for technology that goes above and beyond simple geofencing, which the Lime sidewalk riding detection and geofencing technology can accomplish without issue,” a Lime spokesperson told Cities Today.

The needle has swung.

My Recent Bird Flights

The Bird app was geofencing the Fifth Avenue Bikeways lane (pictured left of sign).

As a frequent e-scooter user, I’ve seen both sides of the issue at street level.

Indeed, there were knucklehead out there who rode against the flow on one-way streets. Some recklessly went too fast on crowded sidewalks. Others left scooters in the streets, on private property and sprawled across public walkways.

Those actions led to the current regulations.

I can’t fault groups like Safe Walkways SD for taking their fight to the city.

Unfortunately–at least for the moment–the short-hop transportation benefits scooters bring to an urban environment are severely negated of late by spotty technology aimed at complying with the new city laws.

Two personal examples:

  • On a recent, mid-August evening, I scooted by Bird from Balboa Park to North Little Italy. I found a corral on India Street and attempted to park. The app said the corral was full. Hmm. It only has two other scooters in it. I tried another corral. And another. It took me five corral tries and 20 extra minutes to legally close this ride.
  • On September 3, I activated a Bird near Cortez Hill and rode it toward Fifth Avenue. My destination was Hillcrest. When I rolled into the brand-new, highly-touted, protected-curb Bikeways lane on Fifth, the scooter shut down. I went out of the bike lane, back onto Fifth, and the scooter powered back up. I experimented three times. Somehow, the app had slow-roll “geofenced” the bike line.

After this ride, I sent a detailed complaint to Bird on its app.

A day later I received a cursory apology and a credit to my account for $1.

By way of explanation, the email reply from Bird stated:

Also, we partner with your local government to create operational zones, no-ride and no-park zones that follow their regulations.

Before starting a ride, zoom out on the map of your app and tap on the outlined zones to see what they are.

The blue shading on your map indicates a service area. If you cross out of this zone and come into the grey area the vehicle will slow down and stop. If this happens, please go back to the ride zone.

I’ll wager every cent of my $1 account credit that the Fifth Avenue Bikeways lane is supposed to be a service area.

Urban Opinions

Scooter regulations are now more strictly enforced.

San Diego Sun readers should be familiar with the love-hate relationship that exists between downtown resident and e-scooters.

It’s a recurring hot topic in The Sun’s “Living In The City” resident profiles. A few examples:

They’re really, really fun to ride–but they’re dangerous. I don’t like when I see people riding them on the sidewalk. I was almost taken out a couple times by scooters. But yes, I’ve ridden them. They are super fun but one wrong move and I’m in the hospital. Katy Temple, Marina District

The concept is great. Like many things, people ruin it! I like having them for easy transportation and do use them. But unsafe riders or people who are not courteous and leave them anywhere make them a nuisance. Deborah Dixon, Columbia District

One ran over my foot coming around the corner of 13th and Market–then the rider apologized to my brother! I find them a necessary nuisance. Laura Fink, East Village

Used carefully and put away properly they’re a great thing. Scooters add alternative transportation, fun and jobs. Sarah Piha, Cortez Hill

Micro Mobility Factor

Can scooter tech catch up to new regulations?

Before COVID, e-scooters were ubiquitous. Companies like Bird released them into cities all over the country and all over the world.

The upside: Micro Mobility. Scooters were thought to be a “last-mile” solution for urban commuters.

The pragmatic thinking was: Daily work commuters could take public transportation (busses, trolleys) to hubs. If you worked a distance away from the bus or trolley stop, you could ride that last mile or so on a scooter.

The idea hasn’t completely lost favor. But implementation has hit a snag.

According to an August 31 story in Forbes: “The early entrepreneurs thought that they could deploy into cities and ask forgiveness rather than permission. That’s what Lyft and Uber did with ride sharing. But municipal governments have gotten smarter and aren’t going to let that happen again, so scooters got regulated much more quickly and aggressively.”

It remains to be seen if scooter entrepreneurs and city governments can iron out a reasonable middle ground. Or, if Bird and other companies have the app acumen to discern the difference between a sidewalk and a bike lane. SDSun


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