This is not an article about how San Jose should regulate e-scooters. This is, however, an article questioning what’s taking so long for the city to do so.
On April 5, the first Bird scooters were launched in Austin. Lime thereafter joined its arch-competitor in addition to an Austin-based company named GOAT. Around 1am on April 27, the Austin City Council unanimously voted on e-scooter regulations. If you are wondering how long it takes to see e-scooters, discuss in committee, and bring to a vote before the entire council, the answer is three weeks.
Similarly, San Francisco has already passed its e-scooter regulations. If you’ve been there lately, you’ll notice an absence of scooters until the city decides which five of 12 applicants, including Uber and Lyft, it will issue a permit Additionally, Santa Monica—Bird’s home city—already passed regulations for e-scooters and e-bikes.
That same sense of urgency has been lost on San Jose. E-scooters first popped up here in March and the city started working on a permit system in April. On Thursday, the city will have a three-hour community meeting in which, to quote the public notice, “City staff will present proposed regulations for bikes, scooters, and similar devices to the public and take questions, concerns, and other input.”
The only thing more ridiculous than the fact that the city is just now having a public hearing is that the substantive meeting is only an hour and the first two hours consist of electric bike and scooter demonstrations. I think it’s safe to say that everyone showing up to a public meeting on electric bike and scooters understands how they work.
What we don’t understand is why it’s taking so long to start what other tech hubs have already finished. And we wonder why people outside of San Jose snicker when we refer to ourselves as the Capital of Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is about moving fast and embracing the unknown. We had an opportunity to set the standard for how e-scooters would be regulated in cities across this nation. But we let San Francisco get the credit, further strengthening its perception as the municipal leader of tech.
If this feels like deja vu from the apps where you pay to ride with a stranger from a few years ago, it's because it's the exact same thing. The only difference is the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority was ready this time around. San Jose, apparently, learned nothing from the well-funded disruptive transportation startup fact pattern.
Nor has San Jose learned anything from the horrible way the Google development was announced to the public. Elected officials are supposed to hold public hearings and make decisions in that order. The city already has a proposal, so what’s the point of tomorrow’s meeting by the city or tonight’s Young Planners Group discussion forum with members of Lime, Bird and the city of San Jose?
If history has taught us anything, it’s that concerns about new ideas and concepts are always overblown. Of course, there are good reasons to be cautious when regulating disruptive technology that puts lives at stake, such as autonomous vehicles. But we’re talking about scooters (Allen Iverson voice).
There are really only three decisions to be made:
1) whether you need to use a helmet
2) whether they can be ridden on sidewalks and
3) whether they should be parked in designated areas
For what it's worth, I think the answers are no, it depends, and yes, respectively. That’s where Austin came out and I’m sure most cities, including San Jose, will land.
But San Jose doesn't have to follow this approach. All I ask is that, for the sake of providing much-needed clarity to riders and people annoyed by the ubiquitous devices, it does something, fast.
Jarrod Jenkins received his juris doctor and masters of public administration from the University of Georgia and works as a product policy associate manager at Facebook. Outside of work, he serves on the San Jose Downtown Association board, attends Echo Church and founded the San Jose Social Club. Opinions expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Want to submit an op-ed? Email pitches to [email protected].