FROM KEITH B. JONES | November 7, 2019

They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, styles and colors, costs and speeds. Essentially overnight, they exploded onto city streets across the country in a wave of fun, freedom, and no shortage of backlash, that’s rolled through hundreds of cities in America. And, as the old trope goes, you either love ‘em or you hate ‘em.

Or you ban them.

Or you revoke their permit to provide service with a swift course of action that says, “We, The City, aren’t messing around anymore.” Which is what it must feel like if you’re Lime.

Depending on where you are in San Diego, Limes are either the single or second-most prominent dockless scooters available. But, depending on what transpires between Lime and San Diego’s Development Services Department, the micromobility provider could see its permit revoked and its scooters disappear from the Finest City’s streets.

But, Why? And, why now? If you’ve been following along—here and across the mobility industry’s corner of the Internet—you won’t be surprised to find that it all comes down to regulation.

What Happened?

The department’s request to initiate the revocation process follows three nearly consecutive violations—July 13th, July 14th, and August 1st—of the San Diego Municipal Code 83.0308, which outlines restricted operations and specific speeds within geofenced zones.

And, if you’ve been following the rocky relationship of dockless mobility and municipal codes, it will hardly surprise you that, following a lengthy period of lackluster regulation, cities are starting to come down hard on policy violations.

Some may say it’s about time. But the threat of revoked permits also raises a question about our cities’ micromobility: Are we ready?

Panacea or Repercussion?

I can’t say that I’m surprised by San Diego’s crackdown on Lime. Between today and Tomorrowland lies the rather messy world of Tomorrow, a liminal timeframe where cities, policymakers, drivers, and pedestrians are all working with and around the inefficiencies of technology, regulation, and infrastructure. If today is when we begin acting on the concepts for the future, and Tomorrowland is the optimized reality of those concepts, then tomorrow is the test period wherein we work out the kinks. So, with many kinks still to be worked out, San Diego and other cities are taking measures to enforce regulations concurrent with the tech and infrastructure we have today.

Likely, these regulations will change, as will the response (on both sides) to infracting them.

They have to.

Certain regulations (in SDMC 83.0308) are blatantly unstable. For instance:

On any City block where a designated parking location for Shared Mobility Devices exists, parking a Shared Mobility Device outside of the designated location is prohibited. (SDMC 83.0310(a)(4)

Within the Downtown Community Plan Area, Shared Mobility Devices are only permitted to park within the designated parking locations for Shared Mobility Devices (SDMC 83.0310(a)(3)

While corralling shared mobility is certainly important in keeping things safe and uncluttered, where scooters are parked (and where they end up) is 100% in the hands of users.

Until it’s feasible to create a database of geolocated docking zones and develop a way to make shared mobility providers fairly accountable, the focus in such instances shouldn’t be on creating regulations for the sake of having regulations, but on changing user behavior for the sake of improving mobility networks.

Despite this, Lime has made it clear that it wants to stay in San Diego.

When the revocation notice was issued, the micromobility company put up a major objection. But with the city’s persistence to not take matters lightly, Lime—much like a student in the imminence of punishment—has shown initiative to improve the eScooter scene here.

Lime “responded to the City’s new regulations by creating on-street corrals encouraging riders to stay off sidewalks, and by launching a “Don’t drink and ride” detection feature in its app, which alerts riders after 10 p.m. to confirm they are not intoxicated,” explains SDnews.com.

It also pressed the city about the niche it purports to fill, arguing that, of the 3 million San Diego riders, many of them don’t have personal vehicles and can’t afford the cost of TNCs to get to work; so, they use Lime.

I personally infer the claim as more intent than truth. At least for now. But in saying so, Lime supports the inarguable importance of micromobility in first mile-last mile mobility networks, and thus the importance of micromobility in urban transit ecosystems.

For cities like San Diego which have burgeoning (if not yet built-out) public transit, dockless scooters and bikes can play an easy and budget-friendly role in getting to/from trolleys, busses, and train stops. Their sharable design means you’ll never have to squeeze your bike into a crowded rail car, nor be forced to skip a bus because the bike rack is full.

And whether micromobility accomplishes the first- and last-mile legs of one’s commute or provides a car-free option for a quick scoot to work, they’re a necessary component to traffic decongestion. Though, perfect fluidity of mobility systems will require—you guessed it—a concerted collaborative effort.

Limes And Lemons

Do I personally think we’ll wake up one morning, walk outside, have some Trumanian sensation that something isn’t right, and wonder about the day taken aback until we suddenly realize… all the Limes are gone?!

No.

Lime will appeal the decision, make amends, and the episode will be forgotten faster than a Facebook meme. And even if Lime concedes and pulls out of San Diego, another company will be quick to grab its permit.

But I hope the episode sends a strong message to all private mobility companies: The Wild West era of mobility free-for-all is coming to a close. However, behind the rate of technology they may be, regulations are indeed picking up the pace. And, they should be honored.

Mobility companies need to recognize that city officials are not against them, but for improving the safety and efficiency of urban transportation.

If devices have features deemed too dangerous, they should be fixed. If devices are too abundant or scarce, their numbers should be reduced or increased. If they are abused, broken, defunct, or otherwise exhibiting lemon-like symptoms (faulty brakes for instance)… then their providers are responsible for collecting them.

Likewise, though I don’t feel companies should be financially responsible for users’ bad behavior if unavoidable, where inappropriate usage is a factor, companies should step up with solutions for better, safer behavior change.

Regulatory crackdowns are necessary whenever technology and the companies behind them go unchecked long enough to cause problems (ahem, Facebook), and I think that very soon we’ll find mobility-tech companies aiming to work with, instead of around, regulations.

It’s an issue we’re starting to see addressed today. But, after moving through the calamity of tomorrow, achieving mobility cohesion will make the road through Tomorrowland a whole lot smoother for everyone.

“Ace Mobility Solutions isn’t just a business. It’s the Mobility Revolution in action.”

Keith B. Jones
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