Hundreds of electric scooters could soon be buzzing around Mountain View, giving people a speedy way to make that last-mile trip between work and the train station. The City Council on Tuesday night endorsed the idea of a pilot program that would allow scooter share companies to bring as many as 800 e-scooters to the city as soon as next year.
The pilot program would have guardrails: barring children from using electric scooters, capping speeds and establishing designated parking areas that would prohibit "free-floating" scooter parking. Allowing users to park anywhere, city staff warned, could lead to scooters blocking sidewalks and littering the city.
Similar pilots launched in cities like San Francisco last year have been controversial, prompting a flood of complaints that the hands-off approach of scooter companies led to a widespread public nuisance, with e-scooters clogging public streets and blocking ramps and transit stops.
The upcoming scooter share pilot is largely the result of market forces. Bike share programs have declined in popularity, at least locally, and many companies have pivoted to take advantage of the explosive rise in electric scooters. Last year, shared scooters accounted for 38.5 million trips in the U.S., making it the most popular form of transportation outside of transit and cars, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.
Mountain View's own bike share pilot program reflects the trend. In May 2018, two companies, Lime and ofo, launched bike share programs in Mountain View, but both began to wind down operations and withdraw from the program after just a few months. Lime withdrew specifically because of its shifted focus towards e-scooters, according to a city staff report.
The interested in bike-sharing programs in Mountain View cratered so fast that data used to assess ridership trends only runs from May through August last year. During that time, the companies' combined 358 bikes were used for 33,532 trips. At the peak, each bike was averaging two trips per day, with the highest usage during the evening hours. About half of the trips started or ended within the downtown Mountain View area.
"I have not seen a bike share program work in Mountain View yet, and I know we've had many of them," Councilman John McAlister said at the Oct. 29 council meeting.
Under the new scooter pilot program, two companies would be allowed to operate up to a combined 800 scooters in the city, which would be subject to a host of constraints. Scooter riders need to be at least 18 years of age and have a valid drivers license, and the scooter speed must be capped at 15 mph. Scooter users are required to follow state laws against riding with passengers, riding on the sidewalk or operating an e-scooter while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Sam Kang, representing Lime, called the policy a good start, but worried that designated parking areas could be problematic. It might work in densely packed areas like downtown Mountain View, but it would be difficult to accommodate all parts of the city with nearby scooter parking. The constraints might be a deterrent for potential riders, he said.
Mountain View resident Serge Bonte said designated parking areas are the only way the program will work for all of Mountain View, particularly in neighborhoods with narrow walkways that were never intended to support discarded bikes and scooters.
"If I look at my neighborhood, our sidewalks are like 3 feet wide and there's just no room," Bonte said. "There are lots of parts of Mountain View that do not have infrastructure for e-scooters to be parked."
Another sticking point was how hard the city should come down on companies in the event that a scooter has a damaged or faulty battery or motor that could render it unsafe. City staff recommend that any permit with a scooter share company could be revoked if motorized scooters are unsafe for public use, which Kang worried could be an overly strict liability standard.
Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga said she supported a "warning system" for infractions to give companies a chance to rectify problems.
Mayor Lisa Matichak said she was worried that enforcement -- keeping riders off the sidewalk and in the direction of traffic -- would be an added burden on the Mountain View Police Department, and wondered whether the scooter share companies themselves could bear some of the responsibility.
Assistant Public Works Director Dawn Cameron said the city can press scooter share companies to educate and remind riders about the rules of the road, and potentially even revoke usage rights for bad actors.
The city plans to begin accepting scooter share permit applications in March 2020.