SAN DIEGO — San Diego City Councilmembers voted to advance a proposal that would soften regulations around rental scooters on Wednesday, just days after the last scooter company in the city announced that they would be suspending operations.
Bird notified their riders of their plans to remove devices from the city last weekend, leaving San Diego without the option that city officials have increasingly looked to as a convenient, sustainable alternative for people to get around neighborhoods.
Other companies that were had contracts to allow them to deploy scooters in San Diego — Lime, Spin and Link — all pulled out of the city, in part due to laws passed by city officials to address safety and sidewalk congestion.
These regulations included a sidewalk speed limit of 3 mph, the banning of large or disorderly clusters of scooters, imposition of fees on operators, and limits on the number of companies and devices that could operate in the city at any given time.
In a statement to FOX 5, a Bird spokesperson similarly cited challenges complying with the guidelines adopted by the city as reason for their suspension of service, saying that “stringent regulatory constraints that have considerably impacted ridership dynamics over the past year.”
The growing number of people who have switched from renting by buying their own scooter and rampant theft of existing devices have also facilitated this shift, creating additional roadblocks that many scooter companies have struggled to address.
In San Diego, riders stealing scooters is a particularly acute issue. According to Bird, this is because of the city’s proximity to the border and local regulations that require use of the most advance scooters, making it more appealing to potential thieves.
San Diego officials are looking to bring some of these companies back by rolling back some of the stricter aspects of the city’s rules for scooter usage.
On Wednesday, the City Council’s Active Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted unanimously to move a proposal that would soften these rules to the full council.
Among the changes discussed during the meeting were modifications to the fee structure for operators and the replacement of the sidewalk speed limit with an audio alerts to prevent unsafe riding.
The proposal would also give companies more flexibility on parking scooters, shifting away from the “coral” staging method that city officials opted for to address sidewalk clutter.
Supporters of easing the restrictions on scooters in San Diego argue that the devices are a key component of the city’s overall efforts to meet local climate goals by expanding alternative methods of transportation.
As advocates argue, rental devices deployed throughout help bolster micro-mobility, or short-distance transportation using lightweight vehicles like bicycles or scooters.
However, critics of these vehicles say that the proposed amendments to San Diego’s regulations is again putting the safety of pedestrians at risk.
With Bird’s departure, city officials say a limited number of devices remain in San Diego, servicing the areas around the San Diego State University and UC San Diego campuses. Those contracts are separate from the city’s with the four scooter companies.
However, Bird indicated that they are working with San Diego officials to explore ways for them to resume operations in the city “as soon as possible.”
“We remain committed to the vision of sustainable urban mobility and will continue to work closely with city officials and the local community to address these issues and explore viable solutions that ensure vehicles remain available to San Diegans,” Bird said in their statement.
The full City Council is expected to consider the proposed amendments to the local scooter guidelines sometime in the coming weeks.