Santa Monica hits electric scooter companies with new rules

The first city forced to contend with the scooter craze is now cracking down.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read

Scooter supporters rallied in front of Santa Monica City Hall before the city council voted on regulating electric scooters on Tuesday.


After months of trying to figure out what to do about the hundreds of electric scooters that descended on city streets last September, Santa Monica has decided the vehicles can stay.

But there are going to be some rules to follow.

The Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to go forward with a 16-month pilot program that will cap the number of rentable, dockless scooters and bicycles allowed in the city. The Southern California city will also limit the number of companies that operate the vehicles, as well as impose fees on the companies.

"There's no denying the popularity and ease of shared mobility devices that can help Santa Monica reach its goal of being a multi-modal city," Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer said in a statement. "Yet we must balance that with a serious need to hold companies accountable to ensure responsible behavior on our streets and sidewalks."

Santa Monica was the first city in the US to experience the scooter craze that's now spread across the US. The company Bird first flooded the oceanside town with its vehicles last September -- without warning to local officials or residents. Within days, people were cruising down the beach boardwalk and parking the vehicles wherever they felt like it, blocking sidewalks, storefronts and wheelchair ramps.

From there, the battle between Bird and the city heated up. Santa Monica told Bird to get a business license, but it reportedly didn't. So then, the City Attorney's Office sued Bird on nine criminal counts. By February, Bird entered a plea agreement with the city and pledged to pay more than $300,000 in fines and secure the proper permits.

One month later, Bird and several other scooter companies began scattering their vehicles across other US cities -- from Nashville to Austin to Washington, DC. Some of these cities, like Austin and Charlotte, have tried to outright ban the scooters. Others, like San Francisco and Nashville, have worked to regulate the vehicles.

Before the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Bird gathered up supporters for a rally in front of Santa Monica City Hall. They carried signs that said "Santa Monica loves Birds" and wore t-shirts that said "Save the Planet." The protestors said the proposed hard cap of 1,500 scooters and bicycles in the city would hurt the environment because it'd put people back in cars.

The council ultimately decided to impose a "dynamic cap." This means each company can deploy a set amount of scooters or bicycles, which is still to be determined, but if the companies show their vehicles are being used at least three times a day, that cap can increase.

Bird said it's satisfied with Santa Monica's new rules, especially with the idea of the dynamic cap.

"By allowing demand to guide the supply of e-scooters, Santa Monica will ensure that Birds are available to all neighborhoods and communities in the city and to create a culture of safe riding and parking," Bird CEO and founder Travis VanderZanden said in an emailed statement. "Santa Monica demonstrated its national leadership in embracing new transportation options to curb cars and congestion."

Lime, which operates dockless bicycles in Santa Monica, said it's looking forward to working with the city.

"We are supportive of a regulatory framework that prioritizes rider safety and accessibility, but also enables us to provide affordable, equitable transportation," a Lime spokesman said.

Along with the dynamic cap, Santa Monica's new rules limit the number of companies to two electric scooter operators and two electric bike operators. The companies will also have to pay an annual operating fee of $20,000, along with an annual $130 per scooter or bicycle fee. Right now, the companies are only paying for a $50 per year permit. The pilot program is set to begin on September 17.

"This pilot approach will allow us to understand usage and operations in order to create a long-term program that establishes a safe, equitable and sustainable mobility option in Santa Monica," said Mayor Winterer.

First published June 13, 3:30 p.m. PT. 
Update, June 14 at 11:12 a.m.: Adds additional information on Bird rally in front of Santa Monica City Hall.

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