From broken bones and teeth to punctured lungs and lacerations requiring plastic surgery — injuries from riding dockless electric scooters have, according to medical professionals, landed people in emergency rooms all over California.
While San Francisco and Los Angeles are rolling out strict rules for startup scooter companies operating in their jurisdictions, city officials in San Diego haven’t been able to agree on how best to address rising concerns.
The City Council has repeatedly brushed aside calls from some elected officials to impose regulations on dockless scooter companies operating locally, including Razor, Lime and Bird.
By contrast, pilot programs in Southern California and the Bay Area are instituting fees, collecting ridership data and requiring safety plans from startup scooter companies, which are flush with hundreds of millions of dollars in investor cash.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office recently noted that the city was looking into “developing a set of rules that focus on rider safety and operator responsibility that will allow for the natural growth of this alternative form of transportation.”
However, spokesman Greg Block said the mayor was skeptical about adopting a permitting system similar to those being piloted in other major cities.
“We don’t want to do anything that’s going to stop them from doing business here, but we want to figure out ways to make people be more responsible and safe with how they’re riding,” he said.
Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who has been calling on Mayor Faulconer and members of the City Council for months to rein in dockless scooter companies, called the city’s current hands-off approach “naive.”
“They’re using our streets and illegally using our sidewalks to make money and provide a service that I believe is valuable but needs to be regulated,” she said.
“We’re not going to scare them away,” she added. “We are the eighth largest city in the country. We have sunshine every day. We’re a tourist mecca. They’re going to be delighted to pay fees and have money upfront to pay for infrastructure.”
Scripps Mercy is now spearheading an effort to collect data on scooter injuries to quantify the issue and get a better sense of the circumstances that lead to the worst accidents, Bansal said.
“It’s a serious issue,” he said. “It’s getting worse, not better, and we don’t see any effort to improve safety of these devices in San Diego.”
Emergency physicians at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center have launched a similar effort, which ultimately envisions working with law enforcement to collect data and catalog detailed injury reports.
“We’re creating this huge surveillance database where we link ambulance, police and hospital data all together so that we get as complete a picture as we can,” said Catherine Juillard, trauma surgeon at the hospital.
In the meantime, San Francisco recently announced it has chosen scooter companies Scoot and Skip for their permit program, in large part because the city approved of proposals by the businesses to improve public safety.
Specifically, they have pledged to deploy safety ambassadors and offer in-person training to the public. The companies are also deploying scooters in underserved neighborhoods and offering discounts to low-income users.
The program, which is administered by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, is recovering costs through an annual permit fee of $25,000 and a $10,000 endowment.
The city of Los Angeles is rolling out similar rules that require all scooters to have a posted notice, in at least 40-point font, telling users not to ride on the sidewalks. The city is also requiring scooter companies to limit vehicle speeds to 15 mph.
Companies must pay $20,000 a year for a permit to operate in Los Angeles, and a $130-per-vehicle fee. Operators are also required to maintain a 24-hour hotline for complaints, specifically for improperly parked or broken scooters.
In San Diego, where long-promised bike lanes throughout the city have yet to fully materialize, many scooter users have also taken to riding on sidewalks, frustrating businesses and unnerving pedestrians.
However, it’s unclear how, if at all, the city plans to address the situation. The police department has said that ticketing scooter riders is a low priority given limited resources.
At the same time, Lime and Bird, according to disclosure reports, have paid local lobbyists tens of thousands of dollars in recent months to meet with the mayor and City Council and, at least in part, oppose regulations that would limit where the scooters could operate.
All three scooter companies operating in San Diego — Lime, Bird and Razor — declined interview requests.
Lime issued this email statement: "Safety is our top priority, which is why we urge riders to practice safe riding not only for their own protection, but also for the safety of the larger community. We also urge riders to wear helmets both through notifications on the app and on the actual scooter.”
©2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.