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The city of San Diego led the way in embracing shared, alternative transportation options like dockless bikes and electric scooters to fight the effects of traffic congestion and climate change. It was a pioneer in providing San Diegans with reliable, clean and affordable alternatives to car rides for short trips. While being an early adopter has great benefits, even I have to admit: There are too many scooters in too few areas in San Diego.
The city has implemented a number of constructive regulations for scooters. For example, on-street corrals for scooter parking in high-traffic areas, like downtown, have demonstrated that abundant corrals help keep sidewalks tidy and deter sidewalk riding. Equity programs encouraged by the city are providing low-income residents with inexpensive access to scooters. However, the current “state of scooters” in San Diego continues to frustrate some residents, presents enforcement challenges for city officials and has created an unsustainable market for scooter operators.
According to the Union-Tribune, over 19,000 scooters are permitted on city streets, and heatmaps from the operators collectively indicate they are largely concentrated in downtown and in the beach communities. That is, transit hubs and many other areas of the city remain underserved. Additionally, concerns around safety and parking remain.
In response, Lime has launched a pilot program aimed at increasing public transit usage, and is deploying scooters to other areas of the city that want and need alternative forms of transportation. Additionally, we have promoted safe riding through training in coordination with San Diego Bike Coalition, launched safety pledges at universities, have long required riders to scan their driver’s license in an effort to prevent underage riding, deployed “tidy crews” on foot and tricycles in high-traffic areas to ensure scooters are correctly parked and not obstructing pathways, etc.
But there is just so much that Lime can do on its own. It is time for the city to implement a transparent performance-based cap on scooter companies to give it the ability to reward good operators and equitably penalize the truly poor-performing ones.
Under a performance-based cap system, each scooter company starts with a capped number of scooters. Scooter companies can apply for fleet increases based on pre-established metrics like high scooter usage, regulatory compliance, serving underserved areas, innovation and community engagement.
For example, San Diego could allow a starting fleet of approximately one scooter per 100 residents – capping each operator at no more than 3,000 scooters. Operators would be allowed to apply for fleet increases if they can demonstrate an average of at least three rides per scooter per day, respond quickly to Get It Done tickets and city requests, serve transit deserts and introduce innovative solutions to ongoing community concerns (e.g. sidewalk riding). This structure is already working in other cities like Portland, Norfolk, Salt Lake City, Washington DC, and Miami.
Scooters hold great promise for transforming how residents and visitors navigate traffic-clogged cities. For trips under three miles, they are cleaner and faster than private cars or rideshare, and they help solve the “first and last mile” problem of getting between transit, home or work. The mayor and City Council have taken some great steps to pioneer an environment for scooters to be a successful alternative to congestion and emission-producing car rides. Now it is time to take the lessons learned by San Diego and other early adopting cities to improve the system.
Kimia Talebian is general manager for Lime San Diego.