City Council vows to tackle dockless bike, scooter issues

SAN DIEGO — A San Diego City Council committee Wednesday agreed to create a working group to explore the creation of a permit and fee system for companies providing dockless bikes and scooters.

The dockless transportation options were introduced in San Diego in February by companies including Ofo, Lime Bike and Bird.

Although the devices align with local climate action goals and offer an affordable solution for the first and last mile of a daily commute, city officials have said they also create chronic nuisance issues. Vehicles are frequently parked in business and transit entrances, but operating companies aren’t always quick to relocate them. Users also, at times, exhibit poor etiquette by riding on sidewalks, riding without helmets and in some cases throwing vehicles into “bodies of water and off cliffs,” said Ray Khan, policy adviser for City Councilwoman Barbara Bry.

During a presentation to the council’s Budget and Governmental Efficiency Committee, Khan outlined several potential payment options to fund dockless vehicle infrastructure, user education and enforcement mechanisms.

Other cities across the country have implemented their own policies as dockless vehicles have exploded in popularity. Proactive regulations on the city’s part could prevent headaches, Bry said.

“It’s a new technology, and I think we’ve let other new technologies – – I’ll say Airbnb — get ahead of us in terms of how we as a city deal with it,” she said. “…We all want this to work for everyone, and we have to figure out the best way to accomplish it.”

Khan outlined several potential payment mechanisms used elsewhere, including operator application fees, annual per-bike fees and bike-removal fees.

He also noted a handful of regulations and practices that could be used by city staff and operators to alleviate dockless vehicle-related issues.

One potential policy: a response requirement — typically two hours — for parking complaints.

Behavior could be improved with additional education, including videos within the application reminding users of local laws, he said. Other cities also use incentive programs to reward users who obey regulations, or show good etiquette by relocating vehicles from improper parking spots.

Dockless infrastructure in other regions has also proved effective, Khan said. Some cities stripe off dockless parking areas, or install vehicle corrals on sidewalks and unused parking spots.

A dockless vehicle study conducted in Seattle showed that 70 percent of bikes were parked correctly after corrals were installed.

“This is usually a creative solution to solving the clutter issue we see with different bike providers,” Khan said.

The Seattle study also found that 75 percent of dockless bikers used the vehicles to access transit.

Khan said vehicle operators could share data with the city to identify high-use areas in need of infrastructure.

Councilwoman Georgette Gomez, a dockless scooter user, said improved infrastructure should precede regulations and fees.

“If you don’t have the infrastructure, then people are still utilizing (a dockless vehicle) but they’re utilizing it in a way that makes them safe — and perhaps sidewalks are those spaces. Is it right? No. But we need to deliver that infrastructure,” she said.

Councilman Chris Ward proposed the creation of a stakeholder working group with city staff, council staff, residents, business owners and operators.

Local Ofo General Manager Paul Vidal, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said his company is receptive to community concerns.

“There is a learning curve. All of us have gone through it, but we take it seriously,” he said. “If it’s picking up bikes and putting them in better places, or making them safer overall — we’ll do whatever we can.”