Electric scooters are overtaking streets — and sidewalks — all over California, from Los Angeles to Oakland, San Francisco to South Lake Tahoe. And while they’ve yet to arrive in Sacramento, the city is getting ready.
Sacramento is currently updating its rules that regulate e-scooters and dockless, electric-assisted bikes like Jump bikes. Last week, two city commissions discussed the existing policy and looked at possible changes, which could include charging fees on companies that bring e-scooters or bikes to town.
“I think scooters have a great potential to be a solution to our mobility challenges,” said Jennifer Donlon Wyant, a specialist with the city who focuses on “active” transportation options such as bikes and scooters.
Tech companies like Jump, Bird and Lime have parachuted into cities throughout the state with e-scooters and bikes over the past couple years. They’re popular: For $1 an hour, you can rent one and travel across town, then lock it up and leave it for the next customer. But they’re also controversial, including reports that e-scooters, which can reach speeds of up to 15 miles-per-hour, have caused serious injuries and an increase in emergency-room visits in some cities.
The city of Oakland passed strict rules for operators last week after complaints about people tripping over scooters, which riders have also crashed into vehicles.
Wyant and others acknowledge that these new ways to get around, which she referred to as “shared rideables,” need oversight. And she says the city gets the message about safety.
“We heard loud-and-clear that there was great concern over operating e-scooters on sidewalks, which would be in violation of … state law,” Wyant said during a city commission meeting last week. “Our local stakeholders were very clear about that, they don’t want the scooters on the sidewalks.”
At the same time, officials at the meeting were excited by the prospect of more ways to get around.
“When I see people ride Jump bikes, people seem so happy,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller, a member of the Active Transportation Commission. “They really are fun, fun modes, and I think anything that we can do to encourage [this] really is positive.”
Jim Brown is executive director of Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, but is supportive of the city’s new plans for e-scooters. At the same meeting, he urged officials to “be creative” about how it goes about creating solutions for bikes, scooters and walkers to live in harmony.
“We need adequate on-street infrastructure for bikes and e-scooters,” Brown said, adding that this is a problem the city is familiar with and working on.
How to pay for all these improvements? The city is exploring whether to charge e-scooter and e-bike companies fees to operate in the city. These could include a “parking fee” of up to $355 per bike or scooter, so that the city can build parking stations, which the different companies would share. There would also be a fee for lost parking-meter revenue and the cost of staff to monitor the new bikes.
The city says it could take more than three full-time city employees to run the program, and that it could lose up to 10 percent of metered parking spaces due to an influx of e-scooters and bikes, since locations to park them could replace existing vehicle parking.
Wyant said city staff is holding community meetings and reaching out to other cities to craft a safe policy. She does not want to see the city limit the number of e-scooter or bike companies that operate in Sacramento.
“We don’t limit cars in the city. I don’t see why we would limit other types of mobility,” she said at last week’s meetings. “Scooters are still new, and we’re still figuring out how they work. … But I don’t think it’s necessarily something that we want to limit. I think the market will limit what happens.”
City council could vote on new rules for e-scooters and bikes by January 2019.