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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 11:33 pm | Fair 53º


Electric Scooters Run Out of Power in Santa Barbara

Electric scooters aren't welcome in Santa Barbara.

The Santa Barbara City Council voted 6-0 this week to not move ahead with a scooter ordinance until the industry can make a vehicle that is safer and more durable.

"It's a phenomenon, but it's not ready for primetime," said Councilman Randy Rowse. "Is there a demand for this 'last-mile technology'? If there is, I don't see it."

Scooters were all the craze a year ago in some major metropolitan areas, including San Francisco, Seattle and Santa Monica, but since the wave hit, a backlash has ensued over whether the micro-mobility vehicles are safe for the public.

The bluntness with which the companies have launched the product has also offended many communities. Lime and Bird typically drop hundreds of the vehicles in communities — without gaining permission from local governments.

Lime and Bird have been banned from Goleta after they unleashed hundreds onto the streets there. The county allows the scooters but charges a scooter and right-of-way fee. 

In Santa Barbara, Lime dropped 150 scooters last June, and the city swiftly impounded them.

Rob Dayton, the city's transportation planning and parking manager, said that there are too many concerns related to safety with the vehicles.

He cited a UCLA study that showed 249 scooter-related injuries at the emergency departments of UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, and Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

The research, published Jan. 25, was the first such study on injuries caused by electric scooters. It reports that the most common mechanisms of injury among scooter riders were falls, 80 percent, collisions with objects, 11 percent, or being struck by a moving vehicle such as a car, bicycle or other scooter, 9 percent.

"The statistics show they are not safe and we should be unsettled about allowing them on city streets," Dayton said.

Users typically download the company's app to a smart phone and then hop on the machine. They cost $1 to unlock and about 15 cents per minute afterward.

The companies usually litter the public right of way with the vehicles, and people often abandon them once they get to their destination. Either another user then rides the scooter to his or her destination or a "charger" picks it up, charges it at home overnight, and then redistibutes it in the morning.

Dayton said that the vehicles are often flimsily built, and that they take a beating from the multiple users. 

"The small wheels and the weight distribution, when you hit a bump, you really feel like you are going to fall off the vehicle," Dayton said.

Dayton said the environmental benefits are also in question. Although some people might use the scooters rather than ride a car, the number of vehicles used to pick the vehicles up at night and then place them again in the morning might negate the environmental benefits.

Dayton noted that Bird still has 36 scooters that are impounded with the city. It costs $100 to retreive the vehicles, but Dayton noted it only costs the companies about $50 to buy the scooters from the manufacturer.

"They have no incentive to pick them up," said Councilman Eric Friedman.

The council directed staff to sit on a potential ordinance until the companies are able to build safer, more durable and higher-quality scooters.

"Down the line, there is a place," Friedman said. "It's a balance, but we're not there yet."

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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