One of the hottest topics in Long Beach last year, before the coronavirus pandemic, was electric scooters.
After more than a year of a pilot program, the City Council finally approved a permanent approach in May 2019. Public Works officials began crafting regulations, but they weren't complete on the target date in November 2019.
Then in March 2020, the world changed. The city asked scooter companies on March 31 to pull the scooters from the street, fearing they might spread the coronavirus.
Now, like every other business owner in the country, the scooter company officials are itching to reopen.
"We were classified as essential as a form of transportation," Tim Harter said. Harter is in charge of government partnerships for the Bird scooter company. "But for the last two months, we haven't been able to restart. The city's health order didn't take into account the micro-mobility sector."
City officials say it was more than what was or wasn't in the city's health order that kept the scooters out of the city. Work on the permanent regulations was put on hold while the focus. was on the. pandemic, then the open streets initiative the City Council and mayor pushed through early this month.
"We are in the final stages of the review now," said Jennifer Carey, Public Works community relations officer. "We're back and focused. We expect the permanent program to be in place in 30 to 60 days."
Carey said the city had reached out to vendors — Bird is one of five operating in the pilot period — last week. Ways to sanitize the scooters is a key to returning to operation, she said.
Scooters operate as a shared mode of transportation. Once a person is done using a scooter, it is left where someone else could use it — companies pick them up when they need to be recharged or for maintenance.
"Sanitation is the reason we had to pull the scooters in the first place," Carey said. "It was the same as the bike share program."
Harter said Bird has taken the sanitation issue into account.
"Their concern is the spread of COVID," he said. "We will be regularly cleaning the handlebars and the rest. We'll also be encouraging our riders to be safe, use proper hygiene, no double rides, etc."
Company officials later said it is true scooters couldn't be sterilized after every ride. There would be frequent field cleaning, and sanitization every charge or maintenance session, though.
"We're seeing positive trends (with the pandemic)," Harter said. "We wanted to help — offer free rides to essential health workers and the like — but we weren't able to. Now people are looking for (transportation) options again."
Another sticking point, Harter said, is the Long Beach requirement to pay the fee of $100 a scooter per year at the beginning of the year. Other cities have opted to collect a per ride fee, allowing scooter companies to pay the city. as money for the service comes in.
"We're ready to put 300 (the maximum allowed during the pilot period for each company) out; we're ready to put 500 out, we're ready to put 1,000 out after six months," Harter said. "But at $100 a pop, that's a significant amount of money to lay out in advance… We want the city to consider trip fees, maybe 10 cents a ride. Others have done that."
Carey said the Public Works Department had heard the request, but were committed to following the program as passed by the City Council — with the flat fee.
"But we realize that is a significant hit if it is paid all at once," she said. "So we have made an offer to accept quarterly payments… We expect that within the next 30 to 60 days that the program will be up and the scooters will be fully. deployed."
A list of the other scooter companies still planning to come back to Long Beach was not available. Those participating in the pilot program in addition to Bird were Lime, Spin, Skip and Razor. Up to six companies will be allowed under the permanent program.
NOTE: This story was updated to correct the timeline from approval by the City Council to completion of permanent regulations for electric scooters.