Disability Lawsuit Targets San Diego Over Dockless Scooters
Kaye PBS is supported by the law firm of Mintz working with startups and growing companies. Mintz legal services can help clients raise capital secure space and protect intellectual property to achieve strategic goals. Moore admits dot.com Mintz built on excellence driven by change. It's been one year since electric scooters started appearing on the streets of San Diego. Since then many have complained about people riding or parking scooters on sidewalks. Hey PBS metro reporter Andrew Cohen says that's affected one group more than any other. People with disabilities. So we're gonna hang a left here. Alex Montoya is taking me on a tour of the East Village where he lives. Montoya was born missing his right leg and both his arms. He gets by fine with prosthetics and says he chose to live downtown because it's easier to get around without a car. Really ever since the scooters have taken over. I have to really kind of take extra time and just always kind of have my head on a swivel because you never know. Literally in a nanosecond who might come tearing down the street or more often he says tearing down the sidewalk. Montoya is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against San Diego and scooter rental companies bird lime and razor. The lawsuit claims both the city and the companies have failed to prevent scooter users from writing or parking on the sidewalk. It claims that failure is a violation of their rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act. It's really such a scary endeavor because you know because of my prosthetic leg I can't get away quickly like my reaction time is slower. It's illegal in California to ride a motorized scooter on the sidewalk and it's illegal to park them in a spot that blocks pedestrians or people in wheelchairs. Montoya says those laws are not well enforced. So it's up to the city to make sure that scooters are not in conflict with pedestrians. It's also up to the city to make sure that scooter riders have a safe place to ride. Sophie Wolfram works at the nonprofit Climate Action campaign. She says scooters could play a big role in shifting mobility away from cars. The biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California. But she says it's unacceptable that people with disabilities are in greater danger because of scooters. And she says that's a symptom of an even bigger problem. Streets are designed for the automobile not humans scooting downtown almost always means sharing a lane with cars and when there's a crash the person in the car always wins. It's not fair to ask people to risk their necks every time they want to make a trip on a scooter by riding in traffic. So there's a lot that the city can do and needs to do to build protected space that makes it safer scooters Wolfram says those protected bike and scooter lanes would make things safer for pedestrians as well just as soon as scooters started appearing in San Diego one year ago. There was a backlash. People said they were a menace unsafe an eyesore cluttering the public right of way Wolfram says. You could say the same thing for cars. I think one way that the disruptions scooters have brought has been useful is that they have exposed some biases we have about how we should move around our city and what kinds of mobility devices we accept having you know strewn about our city. Mayor Kevin Faulconer recently released proposed regulations for scooters. That proposal is on the agenda for a city council committee tomorrow. Montoya says he hopes that actually helps with the problem. I don't want the scooters to go away. I think the scooters are a great invention. I think they're here to stay but I think if they are here to stay they need to be regulated in a way that's safe for everyone so that we can all peacefully co-exist and safely coexist and so that everyone can you know have a right to being able to walk safely and unimpeded as as always the city attorney's office said it would respond to the lawsuit through the courts. Lime one of the scooter companies named as a defendant says it has a robust safety education campaign and that they have staff throughout the city responding to complaints of illegally parked scooters. It could be years before the lawsuit is finally resolved. ANDREW BOE in Cape CBS News. Joining me is K PBS metro reporter Andrew Boe and Andrew welcome. Thanks Maureen has the subject of your feature Alex Montoya actually been injured in an accident with an electric scooter. He hasn't but he says he's had a lot of close calls. There have been some anecdotal reports in the media about scooter riders being injured and trauma centers in the county are now tracking scooter injuries of scooter riders to try and turn those anecdotes into real reliable data. But the plaintiffs like Alex in this lawsuit claim that the mere presence of the scooters when they're blocking walkways or the many close calls that they've had with scooter riders on the sidewalks are enough to actually cause discrimination under the ADA. They say that people with disabilities are being forced to either put their physical safety at risk or just stay home and that's not a choice that they should have to make. Can you give us a sense of how widespread the problem is of scooters and electric bikes being left around town making problems for pedestrians. I think it depends on who you ask. Most able bodied people could just walk around them. A person in a wheelchair or using prosthetic limbs or who is otherwise mobility impaired. It can be a lot harder for them. 2018 San Diego police wrote 551 citations for people riding on the sidewalk. They wrote only one citation for someone leaving a scooter on the sidewalk where it's blocking pedestrian traffic. They have to catch someone in the ACT to write a ticket so it's not necessarily reflective of the actual problem. What I think is interesting is that the police wrote more than four times as many tickets for people riding without a helmet. As for people riding on the sidewalk and so you know under state law it's actually no longer illegal for people 18 and older to ride a scooter without a helmet. So I think this does raise some questions about the police's prioritization of which laws they want to enforce. Are they prioritizing these laws that are intended to protect pedestrians and people with disabilities who are using the sidewalks or are they enforcing the laws that are intended to protect the riders themselves. Which again if you're 18 and older you can ride without a helmet. Now Andrew you've used a scooter to get around the city. Tell us the pros and cons. I think they're really useful for short trips. So like under four or five miles and especially trips where you know that you're only going to need to get there one way. So for example if I'm meeting my husband at a restaurant or bar in Hillcrest and I'm you know live in North Park and I know I'll be getting a ride back home with him if he's already down there then I can take a scooter rather than a bike so I don't have to bring the bike back home with me and I'm just kind of going one way. I mean it's also for useful forgetting places with limited parking or extensive expensive parking rather because you know it's that there's a lot of space where you can park a scooter legally as far as cons go like biking. You often have to share a lane with cars and for someone who hasn't been on a bike since they were 12 years old which I think is a lot of people who are using these scooters that can be incredibly terrifying. So it's entirely understandable why someone might think that the sidewalk is a safer place for them to ride even though it might not be. I want to get back to that but first a city council committee will hear a proposal from Mayor Faulkner's office tomorrow regulating the speed and the parking of scooters. Can you tell us some of the key elements of that proposal. Yes. So all of these stock live scooters are equipped with G.P.S. location data. And so when they enter certain high pedestrian zones that the city has identified the companies will be required to automatically slow the scooters down to either a walking or running speed depending on where they are. The companies will also have three hours to respond to a report of a misplaced or abandoned scooter or bike if they don't remove them within that three hour window. The vehicle will be impounded. The city or the mayor's proposing rules for staging these so you know when these crews go out and place them on the sidewalks in the morning after charging them they have to be staged in groups of four or less. And those groups have to be at least 40 feet apart unless they're you know staged in a designated parking area like a bike rack or something like that. And something we've also haven't seen yet in San Diego is they're going to be annual fees. So the mayor's proposing a fee of 150 dollars per scooter so you know the more these devices you deploy in the city the more expensive it will be for the companies. Ken lime and other companies that is actually controlled the speeds of scooters in certain areas. Yes. The technology exists in sort of larger geographical areas. So if you're entering say the Mission Beach boardwalk the companies can say OK this is an area where you're not supposed to be riding at full speed so we'll slow you down. But the technology is not quite developed to the extent that they could tell when a person is riding on the sidewalk. So you know if you're riding in the street versus riding in the sidewalk the location data is not quite as precise that it could slowed the vehicle down or on on the sidewalk. But that technology line at least told me is under development. Back to the issue of cars now isn't that scooters and electric bikes are such a problem. Or is the real problem the traffic in areas like downtown. You know San Diego says that it wants a future where fewer people have to rely on cars to get around. And I think that the emergence of Douglas scooters and bikes has really exposed how incredibly unprepared the city is for that future that it says it wants. So the Safe infrastructure is sorely lacking like I mentioned. Many people choose to ride on the sidewalk because it's single incredibly terrifying to share a lane with cars. We've also seen the city kind of fumble around with these plans for protected bike lanes so that the network of protected bike lanes downtown for example has been delayed. The full network rather has been delayed by a year or more. Several of the regional bike ways have been delayed by several years. And so the fact that you know people are using this technology I think shows that there is a demand for it. People want alternative options to get around the city but the conflicts with pedestrians and with people with disabilities I think shows how the city can really be doing a better job managing the public right of way. And and also prioritizing those modes of transportation like bikes and scooters that they say they want more of. I've been speaking with Kate PBS metro reporter Andrew Boe and Andrew thank you. Thank you Maureen. Just after midnight on New Year's Eve 2003 a shooting shook the Lincoln Park neighborhood in San Diego. Everybody felt it like you have to. You have two innocent women that. Were just coming from church you know that had nothing to do with anything. Two women were caught in gang crossfire outside Dr J's liquor. It's kind of like a three year old type of memory you know for me. I think there was a drag and there it was kind of like a story from a fairy tale. It's still being felt from the families of the victims to the man convicted. It's like you're watching somebody get beat with a belt and you're not getting hit but you're feeling the licks and you're doing all the reaction. If you walk the streets in the area today people still talk about the shooting and the lasting impacts it had. It's. Taking not even a ticking time bomb it's exploding at this point. Tune in for Dr. James R. six part series starting February 20th. Find it on the San Diego Stories podcast AKP B.S. dot org slash podcasts.
As the San Diego City Council begins debating regulations for motorized scooters this week, the city is also preparing to respond to a lawsuit claiming the new devices have caused discrimination against people with disabilities.
The lawsuit, which was filed in a federal district court last month and seeks to be a class action, claims both the city and scooter rental companies Lime, Bird and Razor have failed to prevent people from riding or parking scooters on sidewalks. Scooters have blocked people with disabilities from accessing the public right-of-way, the plaintiffs claim, and have turned sidewalks into a "vehicle highway" where pedestrians are at risk of injury.
"People with disabilities who wish to travel in the City using the City's walkways are being forced to either put their physical safety at risk or just stay home," the complaint reads. "This is not a choice that they should have to make."
The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting scooters from being parked or operated on sidewalks, crosswalks, curb ramps and other walkways.
Scooters started showing up in San Diego and cities across the country roughly a year ago. Complaints about the devices came just as swiftly, and some cities have banned private rental companies from placing scooters on their streets and sidewalks.
San Diego has taken a far more cautious approach to scooter regulations, with some city leaders warning that reacting too hastily could cause the city to miss out on their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from cars and trucks. Mayor Kevin Faulconer's proposed regulations would, among other things, require scooter rental companies to automatically reduce speeds in certain high-pedestrian areas.
Alex Montoya, one of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, was born missing his right leg and both his arms. He uses prosthetic limbs and said he chose to live in the East Village because it was easier for him to get around without a car.
Montoya said since the arrival of scooters downtown, he has had to remain hypervigilant to avoid getting knocked down by scooter riders, most of whom he observes riding on the sidewalk.
"It's really such a scary endeavor," he said. "Because of my prosthetic leg, I can't get out of the way as quickly."
Riding motorized scooters on sidewalks is illegal under California law, as is parking them — or any other object — in such a way that blocks pedestrian or disabled access to public walkways. Montoya said he has not seen those laws well enforced downtown.
San Diego Police Department data show there were 551 citations issued to people for riding a scooter on the sidewalk in 2018. Police issued more than four times as many citations to people riding without a helmet — something that is no longer illegal for people 18 and older.
Sophie Wolfram, director of programs at the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, said it is unacceptable that people with disabilities fear for their safety because of scooters. She said people's tendency to ride on sidewalks shows how unsafe they feel sharing a lane with cars. Plans for protected bike lanes downtown and throughout the region have faced numerous delays.
"It's not fair to ask people to risk their necks every time they want to make a trip on a scooter by riding in traffic," Wolfram said. "So there's a lot that the city can do and needs to do to build protected space that makes it safe for scooters. And when the city does that ... it also makes it safer for pedestrians to reclaim the sidewalk for slower uses."
Wolfram added that much of the criticism of scooters — that they are nuisances, eyesores or safety hazards — can easily be applied to cars, as well.
"I think one way that the disruption scooters have brought has been useful is that they have exposed some biases we have about how we should move around our city, and what kinds of mobility devices we accept having strewn about our city," she said.
The San Diego City Attorney's Office said it would respond to the complaint through the courts. Bird and Razor could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for Lime said the company has invested $3 million in a safety education campaign, frequently gives away free helmets and employs a team of on-the-ground responders to move illegally parked scooters.
Montoya said he was encouraged by the mayor's willingness to regulated scooters, and that he understands their appeal as an alternative to cars.
"I think the scooters are a great invention," Montoya said. "But I think if they are here to stay, they need to be really regulate in a way that's safe for everyone."