Electric scooters: covering the first and last mile in Oakland

Love them or hate them, electric scooters are now a regular sight on city streets across the nation. Since they first came to Oakland this summer, they’ve been operating in a legal gray area—there was no legislation in place to regulate them. That changed in September, when the Oakland City Council passed an ordinance to develop permits for scooter companies.

In order to earn permits, companies renting out scooters will need to offer a discount for low-income riders and make sure their fleet is regularly redistributed around the city so that at least half are available to riders in East and West Oakland. The permits, which are currently being developed by city administrators, will also set standards for safety and responsiveness to complaints.

A number of other U.S. cities—including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle—have chosen to ban scooters while taking the time to develop regulations. Oakland has not.

Michael Ford, interim manager of parking and mobility at Oakland’s Department of Transportation, shared with city councilmembers his recommendation to move forward without a ban. “We recognize that our goal is to create transportation choices. And while there are many challenges with this new form of shared mobility, it is wildly popular—not just with people who are using them for recreation purposes, but for transportation,” he said to councilmembers before their September 17 vote on the ordinance.

Leaders in transportation equity have applauded Oakland’s approach. “Scooters can be a helpful first and last mile solution to help connect people to transit hubs,” said Hana Creger, a researcher and advocate for environmental equity at Oakland’s Greenlining Institute, an organization that promotes racial equity in health, policy, and the economy.

And scooter companies are already beginning to put the new standards into effect. “We’ve already seen that it’s not difficult to deploy equitably and to deploy in communities of concern throughout the area,” said Megan Colford, who runs the low-income access program at Lime, the largest scooter company operating in Oakland. Every morning, Lime operations staff pick up scooters near downtown BART stations and redistribute them into neighborhoods in East and West Oakland.

Oakland councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (at large), who proposed the ordinance, has said that while unregulated scooters are a hazard, they have the potential to be a benefit. And with the right regulation coming into place, she hopes “that we can reduce the number of problems and let them be a positive mobility option for our community.”

City administrators are now seeking community input as they develop permits, which are expected to be unveiled by the end of the year.

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