San Diego

Scooters Are Back In Big Numbers After City's Most Recent Permitting Period

Safety advocates say the city isn't doing enough to enforce current safety rules and fear more scooters will make problems worse

NBC Universal, Inc.

Beginning this week, the number of motorized scooters permitted to operate in San Diego has increased 49% compared to the first half of 2021, and the big increase is drawing the ire of safety advocates.

The city approves and issues permits for all motorized scooters and bikes every six months.

For the first half of 2021, there were 9,750 total devices that could be deployed. This week, that number jumped to 14,500 among seven companies. The city also permitted 200 bikes owned by Bird.

Each company must pay $75 for every permitted device over a six-month period.

“City permits are ministerial and applicants must demonstrate that they meet all of the City requirements outlined in the Municipal Code for issuance of the permit,” said a city spokesperson in response to an email by NBC 7.

By way of comparison, the city issued 22,300 permits in July 2019, the first-ever permitting cycle.

Due in part to the pandemic, the number of permitted devices fell dramatically last year.

In January 2020, the city issued permits for 11,050 devices. The number dropped to 6,400 in July 2020.

The current increase has gotten the attention of safety advocates groups concerned the city isn’t doing enough to enforce existing rules.

“I expect the riding to be worse and I expect blocking the sidewalks and pedestrian access, and access for people with disabilities to get worse,” said downtown resident Janet Rogers, with the group Safe Walkways SD.

The group claims the city is not using any of the permit money to enforce what it calls blatant safety violations, and says the city is not issuing any meaningful number of citations or impounding scooters left on sidewalks.

“The problem is there’s no enforcement. They should not be on the sidewalk,” said Phil Pressel.

Pressel is wheelchair-bound and his wife is oftentimes forced to walk alongside him and push aside scooters that are blocking sidewalks.

“People will come by fast and you get scared and people expect that they have the right to be on the sidewalk,” said Pat Pressel.

The city did not make anyone available for comment on the safety concerns but in a statement, Mobility Department Director Alyssa Muto said:

“The City continues to work with operators to manage their fleets with real-time data on their end, emerging technology and operator sponsored corral-parking incentives that they have shared are coming into the market. We also have our contract with SWEEP to assist the City with device management and enforcement, and while they assist with the relocation and placement of devices into better locations and corrals when those situations are observed, they immediately impound devices that are blocking access under the ADA or City regulations; present an immediate hazard; are parked or knocked over in middle of street within a travel lane; and in areas that would impact transit, at stops within the roadway, in seating or waiting areas, or where on-boarding and off-boarding would occur.”

Meanwhile, on any given morning, scooters can be found strewn along beach area sidewalks.

“To be honest with you, I think it’s going to be six months of a chaotic free for all,” said John Heinkel.

Heinkel is co-owner of Scoot Scoop, which impounds scooters illegally parked on private property.

Heinkel currently has more than 15,000 impounded scooters that have yet to be claimed. He expects that number to at least double with the issuance of additional permits.

“You are going to have the operators fighting over space, you’re going to have pedestrians fighting over their safety, imagine dog walkers, women with strollers, people with children, older people, they’re all going to be fighting for that space on that sidewalk,” said Heinkel.

Here is the breakdown of the newly permitted devices by company.

  • Bird – 6,000 (plus 200 bikes)
  • Lime – 2,000
  • Link – 1500
  • Lyft – 1750
  • Spin – 1500
  • Veo – 1,000
  • Wheels – 750

Lime returns to San Diego after leaving the city in January 2020 amid ordinance violation allegations. Lime has yet to return emails requesting comment.  

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