Scooter Ban

Lime scooters sit outside of a Chinatown business near the intersection of Hill and Ord streets last week.

A city councilman is taking steps to ban electric scooters from Chinatown and other neighborhoods. The move is being prompted by safety concerns, particularly in the Downtown community known for its packed sidewalks.

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On March 1, Councilman Gil Cedillo filed the motion that would remove his district from a citywide dockless vehicle pilot program, which started on Friday, March 15. The district also includes Elysian Park, Echo Park, Highland Park and other communities.

In the motion, Cedillo asked the council to exclude the neighborhoods he represents until more data is available from a one-year citywide pilot program being orchestrated by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

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“Until LADOT’s one-year pilot has concluded it would be fitting to limit the locations where the electric scooters can operate,” the motion reads.

With electric scooters proliferating across the region, the council in September approved a program that will allow companies each to deploy 3,000 vehicles citywide, though that could rise to 10,500 vehicles each if they include certain disadvantaged communities. According to a February report from the LADOT, permits have been approved for a total of 24,000 scooters and electric bikes. A total of 11 companies have requested to participate into the pilot program, which would bring the number of vehicles to around 37,500, according to a report from LADOT.

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Fredy Ceja, a spokesman for Cedillo, said in an email that, “The Councilmember is concerned with public safety issues associated with dockless scooters.” He said the office has received a string of calls with complaints of clutter, safety concerns, the blockage of ramps and injuries. He mentioned that a significant number of the calls have come from Chinatown.

“Council District One has some of the densest areas in the City, with limited sidewalk space,” Ceja said in the email. “We do not oppose the use of scooters, we are simply asking for more time to determine if they are appropriate for our district.”

Cedillo’s motion would have to be approved by the council’s Transportation and Public Safety committees before reaching the full council vote. The next Transportation Committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, March 20.

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If the motion is approved, companies including Lime, Ofo and Bird would be required to remove all dockless vehicles from the district, according to Ceja.

In an email, a representative for Bird Scooters indicated that the company opposes the idea of prohibiting scooter use in a particular district.

“Bird hopes to serve all Angelenos as part of the city’s upcoming year-long pilot project,” the statement attributed only to a Bird spokesman reads. “Bird believes every Angeleno deserves uninterrupted access to low-cost, emissions-free transit, and so we hope city leaders will ensure everyone can participate in this program.”

Representatives for Limebike, another company with scooters in Chinatown and District One, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The scooters are built around cell phone apps that allow users to scan a vehicle, ride, then leave the device when they are finished. Supporters say the scooters provide a fun and easy way to get across the city and reduce automobile congestion.

Detractors complain that riders often leave scooters in the middle of sidewalks. They also cite safety concerns for riders, pedestrians and people driving cars.

The city’s dockless regulations require riders to leave the vehicles in an upright position and keep rights-of-way clear. Using the MyLA311 app, people can report improperly parked vehicles. Operators are required to respond within two hours.

Safety Concerns

In addition to pedestrian safety concerns, Ceja said there are concerns for riders. He cited a UCLA emergency room study released in January that examined injuries sustained by 249 dockless vehicle riders. It found that 80% were hurt falling off the vehicles, 11% struck other objects and 9% crashed into other moving vehicles.

Almost 90% percent of riders observed in the study were not wearing a helmet.

Some scooter companies have pushed back against the report, saying that it only represents a small sample size of the possible rides taken in the area.

Recently, while standing next to a batch of Lime scooters near the intersection of College Street and Broadway, Chinatown resident Morgan Yun said he frequently sees the vehicles zip across the community’s crowded sidewalks. He was surprised to learn that the scooters are not allowed on the sidewalks.

“If they are not supposed to be on the sidewalks then more needs to be done to keep them off the sidewalks,” Yun said. “People are going to get hurt.”

The city has struggled with how to regulate scooter companies. In August, Fifth District Councilman Paul Koretz, a member of the Transportation Committee, proposed banning the vehicles citywide until guidelines could be ironed out. The Public Safety Committee eventually rejected the motion.

In May, the LADOT proposed a “geo fence” around existing Metro bike share stations and a three-mile buffer around Downtown Los Angeles that would have effectively barred the vehicles from the Central City. The request was removed after council deliberations a month later.

sean@downtownnews.com

©Los Angeles Downtown News 2019