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California

As it develops rules of the road, L.A. County considers a voluntary ban on scooters

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Westside vandals are waging a guerrilla war against pay-per-mile scooters. Above, Bird electric scooters on the Venice Beach boardwalk.
(Gabriel S. Scarlett / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County is considering what amounts to a voluntary ban on electric scooters as it develops regulations for companies to operate them safely in unincorporated areas.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a plan that would, for now, halt their operations in neighborhoods that are home to more than 1 million county residents.

The plan would ask companies not to deploy the scooters until rules for their use, safety and distribution are established — although the county hasn’t crafted any penalties to impose if the companies don’t comply.

“The county has an obligation, especially in the unincorporated areas, to protect the taxpayers,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose Fifth District includes many unincorporated residents in central and northern sections of the county.

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Use of motorized scooters, which can be rented with a smartphone app, has exploded across California in the last year, as Bird, Lime and Jump and other companies have deposited them in Santa Monica, Venice and other neighborhoods and cities across Los Angeles.

Recently, some of the battery-powered, dockless scooters have surfaced in unincorporated places, including East Pasadena and Altadena. Their appearance prompted residents to “bombard” Barger’s office with complaints, she said, and raised concerns about whether there was a potential liability for the county to motorists on an unregulated road.

Now county officials are following other cities in trying to control the scooters.

“In this case, my goal is to regulate — more to protect the taxpayer from being sued, but also to make sure that this is done to address the sensitivities in the community,” she said.

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Barger’s motion initially called on county officials to inform scooter companies to “cease and desist” operations — with the exception of Marina del Rey — until regulations are adopted by the board.

That language has since been softened and is still being written as county officials say they are proceeding collaboratively with the scooter companies.

The measure still would create a process for establishing county procedures related to scooter parking, data sharing and distribution, among other issues. The goal is to roll out a regulatory policy within 45 days.

Both Bird and Lime issued written statements to The Times indicating their desire to help county regulators craft a policy that would let residents in unincorporated areas continue using their scooters.

“We look forward to continue working together to define a framework that can work for everyone in the hopes that this process will not disrupt access to our transportation solution — one that Angelenos have come to rely on,” according to Bird’s statement.

Lime struck a similar tone.

“As we have done with surrounding communities, Lime looks forward to working with the county to create a program that meets the mobility needs of the community while also ensuring that any concerns that they have,” its statement read.

It remains unclear how widespread scooter use has become in unincorporated areas. Scooters are heavily concentrated in Westside cities and neighborhoods, such as Santa Monica, Venice and Marina del Rey, and sprinkled throughout parts of L.A.

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The county’s move comes a few months after the city of Los Angeles unanimously approved its own rules. The City Council established a yearlong program to allow companies to apply for permits and deploy as many as 10,500 scooters.

The city’s program imposed a 15-mph speed limit on scooters and required that users leave them parked upright, on the outer edge of sidewalks, near bus benches, parking meters and advertising kiosks.

The rules were designed to be temporary, giving city regulators time to develop a formal plan for the industry, which has evolved quickly, and prompting complaints about haphazard parking and dangers to pedestrians and motorists. There also have been concerns about the safety of riders, who scoot along on streets, bike lanes and sidewalks, and occasionally get involved in crashes.

In addition to scooters, the county’s regulations will consider opening the unincorporated area’s streets and sidewalks to electric bicycles that can be rented for short-term rides and returned anywhere, rather than at a kiosk or a dock. The systems, called dockless bike-sharing, are already in use on a small-scale basis at Cal State Northridge and in San Pedro and Wilmington.

Separately, the county’s Department of Beaches and Harbors has been working with scooter companies to establish a pilot program to regulate the use of electric bikes and scooters in Marina del Rey. The ban under consideration next week wouldn’t extend there for now.

Barger, who has discussed the motion with Bird officials, said she believes the ban will be temporary while the county develops its rules — and that someday soon, the companies will be able to help with transportation needs in unincorporated areas, especially around stations along the Metro Gold Line.

“I have every faith that they are going to be responsible as it comes to operating them in the unincorporated areas,” she said.


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