Santa Monica might replace Bird and Lime with electric scooter fleets run by Lyft and Uber

By Gary Walker

Bird and Lime supporters picketed Santa Monica City Hall on Tuesday after a city committee released recommendations to replace their electric scooters with fleets owned by Lyft and Uber
Photo by Maria Martin

Electric scooters will continue to zip along Santa Monica streets for the foreseeable future, but the companies that were first to launch the polarizing alternative transportation phenomenon here may be forced out of town as early as Sept. 16.

Under a pilot program to regulate electric scooters and electric bicycles that would sanction only two private fleet operators in each category, a committee of city staffers ranked proposals by potential operators based on various criteria that included specific operational plans for Santa Monica, public education and engagement strategies, legal compliance track record, and strategies to address safety and nuisance issues.

That committee ranked Bird — the local company that was first to market and first to clash with Santa Monica City Hall — near the bottom of the electric scooter list, with a particularly low score for compliance. Lime, a Northern California company that launched its fleet a few months later, ranked fourth out of 12 for both bikes and scooters.

The top two proposals for bikes and scooters came from: (1) the rideshare company Lyft, which in June integrated Big Blue Bus service into its rideshare app; and (2) JUMP, which created the bicycles utilized by the city-operated Breeze Bike Share program and was recently acquired by Uber.

Speaking on background, Jump officials said their service would seamlessly integrate scooter, electric bicycle and rideshare availability into a single phone app, and that existing operations in San Francisco have shown users to overwhelmingly prefer pedal-assist bikes over rideshare for short trips.

Whether to displace Bird and Lime in favor of Lyft and JUMP as of Sept. 17 is ultimately up to a vote of the Santa Monica City Council. Meanwhile, members of the public can submit written comments to the city via kyle.kozar@smgov.net (use subject line “Shared Mobility Pilot Program”) until 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17.

Crying foul at the prospect of being locked out of the city after pioneering scooter technology there, Bird and Lime deactivated their Santa Monica fleets on Tuesday as part of a “Day without a Scooter” protest that encouraged supporters to attend a rally later that day at Santa Monica City Hall.

More than 250 Bird or Lime supporters, many clad in the companies’ brand-identifying black or green, turned out for the boisterous gathering that even included a rap trio calling itself “the Bird Group” (not affiliated with the company, a Bird representative clarified). To kick things off, a parade of 25 independent contractors who charge Lime scooters — “juicers,” they call themselves — arrived on scooters just before 5 p.m., with a phalanx of Bird riders arriving a few minutes later.

Bird Chief Legal Officer David Estrada acknowledged that Bird hadn’t made a great first impression on Santa Monica city leaders, but said the company had made great strides in compliance since its initial launch last year. He called the commission’s recommendation to exclude Bird a “good slap in the face.”

“It’s been a long road of working to get better. We’ve worked hard to get better and we have a lot more to do,” Estrada told the crowd.

Estrada also criticized the recommendation to give rideshare companies exclusive license to a business model designed to take cars off the streets.

“We and Lime both have the experience of serving you. But City Hall says, ‘Forget that, we want somebody new. And who we want are someone who gives car rides every day,’” he said, triggering sustained boos from the crowd. “Our motivation is fewer cars, more energy.”

Rally attendee Indigo Miller, 24, said she suffers from scoliosis and finds riding Bird scooters more comfortable than driving. The Santa Monica resident and preschool teacher said the scooters have allowed her to stop using her car to get around town.

“I don’t want to spend the money on gas because I live in a city where Bird and Lime have made getting around much easier,” Miller said.

Santa Monica resident Jeri Palumbo described Lime as a very conscious company that cares about the environment.

“I believe this mode of transportation is the way of the future, especially in the larger cities where we have traffic congestion,” she said. “Both Bird and Lime have been big disruptors. No one expected them to explode in the manner that they did. A lot of people have been leaving them in the right of way and in driveways, getting on the nerves of locals, and I think that has played a huge factor [in the committee’s decision].”

Lime CEO Toby Sun concurrently released a statement in defense of the company’s Santa Monica operations.

“As the most experienced shared bike and scooter company in the United States, we are disappointed by the city’s current proposal because Santa Monica riders deserve access to best-in-class technology,” he said. “Over the last four months, Lime has pioneered a shared scooter network in Santa Monica as a model for the nation. Since day one we have worked collaboratively with the city to design a program tailored to fit the community’s needs. It’s clear Santa Monica residents and visitors have enthusiastically embraced Lime, with over 180,000 unique riders choosing us as their affordable, zero-emission transportation option since we launched in April.”

“The important thing to remember is the selection process for the vendors is not final,” said city spokeswoman Constance Farrell. “We encourage people to weigh in via the selection process.”

Managing Editor Joe Piasecki contributed to this story.

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