The first rules to address mounting problems created by the explosive growth of dockless electronic scooter rentals (operated by companies like Bird and Lime) cleared the City Council's Public Safety & Livable Neighborhoods Committee last month. Yet to hear the discussion on e-scooters at the Pacific Beach Town Council meeting Oct. 17, regulations can't come fast enough or go far enough for the residents who've been most impacted by the contraptions since their launch in PB earlier this year.
Despite a last-minute cancellation by Bird representative Sophie Beckerman, officials from San Diego Police , Lifeguards and the City Attorney's office were on hand to take questions, but admitted that efforts to control the scooters can't keep up with their meteoric rise.
"Unfortunately, all we can do right now is provide as much enforcement as we can with our limited resources," said Police Lt. Steven Waldheim of the Northern Division. "But problems have just been ongoing."
Waldheim noted that almost 1,700 of the citations in the beach area and boardwalk were for riding without a helmet, a restriction set to be lifted next year with the passage of a recent state law. Other violations cited were riding on the sidewalk in the business district, riding with a passenger and not having a driver's license.
Lifeguard Lt. Rick Romero said his PB unit has been called to about 100 incidents of e-scooter accidents and many resulted in injuries that run the gamut. "Abrasions, people getting knocked down, knocking other people down on the Boardwalk to serious trauma, head trauma, being transported to the hospital. It's all ranges," he said.
The Mayor's plans
Drafted by Mayor Kevin Faulconer's office, the proposed regulations would reduce maximum speeds to 8 mph in areas with high pedestrian traffic including the Boardwalk and Baywalk; require detailed monthly reports on usage from the operators for planning purposes; require companies to educate riders on vehicle laws and codes; impose undetermined fees on companies; and force companies to carry liability insurance and indemnify the City from claims.
If passed, the rules would address some of the concerns voiced, but other issues arising out of e-scooters remain in a vacuum.
John Shemwell argued that the mess produced by the haphazard parking by users, who walk away from e-scooters once they're finished with them, is growing faster than the public safety issues.
"What bothers me, which nobody's talking about, is these things are litter," he said to outbursts of approval. "I've had to throw 'em away and throw 'em in the road and throw 'em here and there. I don't know what to do with them. You're not going to get ahead of them because if you remove one from the sidewalk where you're walking, there's going to be four the next morning."
Even supporters of e-scooters, who cited the benefits to reducing gashouse emissions and traffic congestion while noting the greater safety dangers and "litter" already posed by cars, admitted that the problems needed to be tackled.
Ed Gallagher argued solutions could be found by reassigning responsibilities for e-scooter enforcement to more effective departments.
"If a car was parked on the sidewalk, or if my bike or motorcycle, was blocking a parking spot, Parking Enforcement would give me a ticket," Gallagher said. "That's not the police's job. If (e-scooter companies) suddenly got hundreds or thousands of parking citations every day, I guarantee you they're going to solve that problem."
Power to the people
While law enforcement officers acknowledged being hamstrung by legal guidelines restricting their ability to resolve e-scooter problems, private citizens on the panel described their attempts to take the matter into their own hands.
Attorney Michael Neil, a partner at Neil Dymott and former Marine Corps general, revealed his firm's intent to file a class action lawsuit against the e-scooter companies and the City, and get a court injunction to stop the e-scooter proliferation based on their obstruction to access of public walkways for people with disabilities.
Neil claimed a good probability of success based on similar actions taken by his firm, such as the June $1.7 million settlement of a Segway lawsuit in La Jolla, and solicited the audience for help in finding additional qualified, well-
spoken, disabled people as possible claimants.
"We've got to stop this scooter scourge," Neil said. "The City has to accept responsibility in large part for what is going on here. The only way we're going to stop it is by filing lawsuits, ladies and gentleman. Nobody wants to sue their own City, but it's the only way to get people's attention nowadays."
Marcie Beckett announced the formation of new civic group dedicated to advocating for pedestrian safety and rights called Safe Walkways. Handing out worksheets stating the group's positions on the e-scooter issue, Beckett said the organization is gaining traction with people all over San Diego, not just beach communities.
"Bottom line is this: there are violations every day all day long and they're very dangerous," Beckett said. "So someone's going to die. We need to prevent that from happening and that's my major motivation."
Despite the City's proposal for regulations, the tenor and temperament of the meeting indicated that the e-scooter issue is deeper, multifaceted and will last a lot longer than any single ordinance can resolve.
"No other device out there has attracted this much attention to the operations on the beach," said Romero.
— To learn more about Safe Walkways and e-scooter issues, join the e-mail list by contacting Jon Freeman at email@example.com
• Editor's Note: As PB Monthly goes to press, we've learned that a class-action lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Oct. 19, accusing two of the largest e-scooter companies, Lime and Bird, as well as other e-scooter firms, of "gross negligence" and "aiding and abetting assault." The suit also names scooter manufacturers Xiaomi United States and Segway as defendants.
A story filed by Peter Holley of The Washington Post states that the lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight initial plaintiffs, and says the companies' practices have contributed to injuries in multiple ways. By "dumping" scooters on public streets without an appropriate warning, the lawsuit alleges, e-scooter companies acted negligently and should have known that their devices would become a dangerous "public nuisance."
Three plaintiffs claim they were walking when e-scooter riders crashed into them from behind, resulting in severe injuries.
San Francisco-based Lime company is reviewing the complaint. Bird, based in Santa Monica, pointed out that the complaint has been brought "against the entire e-scooter industry."