Los Angeles’ cavalcade of dockless scooters and bikes will avoid tougher requirements, including new fees and a requirement for locks, at least until the end of the year, while the Los Angeles Department of Transportation irons out several key regulations for the infant industry.
The Los Angeles City Council’s transportation committee technically approved a set of regulations proposed by the LADOT this week, but it delayed the rollout until Dec. 31 and sent the tougher rules back to the drawing board in-between. time.
Now, the same companies that opposed the proposal are optimistic that the extra time will allow them to negotiate common ground. In a statement, Lyft praised the board members’ delay.
“While we were disappointed that LADOT’s plan did not address many of our concerns and feedback, we look forward to working with the LADOT Board and staff over the next three months,” Lyft said in a statement.
Phuong Bui, head of government partnerships for Spin, said the company supports the city’s goal of “penalizing bad actors and incentivizing good partners” and called it a step in the right direction.
Uneven distribution in neighborhoods
LADOT initially took a softer approach to regulation in the first year of its “micro-mobility” pilot program, but too few companies took advantage of the incentives to roll out in low-income neighborhoods and instead oversaturated the streets of Venice, Hollywood and downtown. . Residents have complained of scooters left haphazardly on sidewalks, thrown into trees and abandoned on private property. Some neighborhoods have never seen the vehicles.
“There really wasn’t a deep shared commitment to achieving these equity outcomes,” Seleta Reynolds, LADOT’s chief executive, said at Wednesday’s committee meeting. The city offered a “carrot basket” but found that without harsh penalties, companies chose to ignore large swaths of the city, she said.
Nearly a quarter of runners in the pilot program earned $100,000 or more a year, according to a one-year review. The review also found that only 2% of all trips started or ended in the San Fernando Valley. According to the report, response times to service requests – 90% of which were related to improperly parked vehicles – were nearly four hours longer in the Valley than averages elsewhere.
Punishment led to compliance
But the department’s new regulations in response to the program’s first year relied too much on penalties, at least according to providers. Fines for non-compliance with the proposed regulations can reach $100,000 under the proposed rules.
Three particular areas have been targeted by companies as potentially damaging to the industry. First, requiring vehicles to be retrofitted to lock on any bike rack within the next six months would cost businesses ‘millions’, they said, despite the city lacking the necessary infrastructure in place before the deadline. LADOT said the requirement was staggered for a reason, so companies could prepare for the inevitable change in advance.
Getting runners to properly comply with this requirement would likely present an additional challenge. While 82% of commuters knew not to ride on the sidewalk, a third still preferred to do just that, according to the city’s one-year tally. About 85% of all citations related to the program in March 2020 were for driving on the sidewalk. At the same time, less than half of the vehicles audited during the review period were parked correctly
The controversial second rule would have established a “per trip” permit fee that charged operators nothing to deploy in the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and up to 40 cents per trip in popular destinations. Company representatives praised the per-ride charges, but felt the levels were too confusing and the charges were too high. Some have instead asked for a flat rate of 10 to 20 cents down the line. Previously, the city charged $39 to $130 up front per vehicle depending on its deployment location.
Third, companies objected to a hard cap that limited passenger costs to $1.25 to $1.75 in areas with low incomes and poor transportation. Micro-mobility companies have argued that they do not receive the heavy subsidies given to other, more traditional transport services and would have to operate at a loss in these areas.
“We believe that the current proposal, as it stands, creates an unfavorable policy environment that significantly reduces the sustainability of operators in the market,” Bird, Lyft, Lime and Wheels companies said in a joint letter before the meeting. They alleged that they had been left out of the rule-making process and requested a six-month extension of the existing rules.
They got a little over half of that instead. The transport committee asked the LADOT to examine the lockout requirement for other possible alternatives – such as anti-tip technology – and fare caps to determine whether the requirement to enroll a certain number of people in a discounted goodwill program may be more effective in achieving departmental equity goals.
The committee also pushed LADOT to come back with clearer boundaries in its “equity zones,” the disadvantaged areas where lower fees and rates would come into effect under the proposal. Currently, the zones include areas such as protected wetlands, where an increase in ridership is not required.
Sam Sadle, government relations manager for Lime in North America, said he’s optimistic that his company and the other suppliers can work with the city over the next few months to create a framework that meets everyone’s goals. He acknowledged that the industry could have done a better job of providing services in communities that are sorely lacking in transportation options.
Lime offers a 70% discount on memberships for low-income people, and other companies, such as Spin, offer similar discounts. However, in its first-year review, LADOT found that programs like this were largely unknown to qualified people.
“It’s a new industry,” Sadle said. “I think we have learned a lot and still have a lot to learn. It is up to us to do a better job and we are committed to doing so.