Electric-bike-share companies like Santa Barbara’s BCycle dodged a legislative bullet in Sacramento this Thursday. Language that would have required them to carry insurance should riders injure themselves was dropped from AB 371 in a legislative committee in Sacramento.
The new language — adopted by the State Senate’s Appropriation Committee — will require only that scooter rental companies get such insurance coverage, and bike companies were let off the legislative hook.
This turn of events — happy news for BCycle, which runs the fleet of 180 white rental electric bikes throughout downtown — probably reflects the relative power of the bicycle lobby in Sacramento as opposed to the scooter lobby. It also reflects the fact that the electric rental scooters have a greater tendency to wind up as heaps of street and sidewalk clutter.
Inspiring the bill in the first place was the inconveniences, nuisance, and menace the heaps of discarded scooters pose to blind pedestrians. The brother of the bill’s author, Assemblymember Reggie Sawyer-Jones — chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus in Sacramento — happens to be a blind high school principal in Washington, D.C. He reportedly encountered more than a few heaps of discarded scooters in the nation’s capital and elsewhere, and his brother’s bill seeks to address that problem.
AB 371 explicitly addresses the inconvenience that abandoned “micromobility” vehicles pose to the visually impaired. In the first bill, all bike-share and scooter-share vehicles were to be “affixed” with signs written in braille identifying the company that owns the offending vehicle. Under the new version, only scooters will be required to post such identification.
Bike advocates in Sacramento argued against the bill in general, contending it would pose an unprecedented burden on a nascent industry that could provide affordable and flexible transportation to low-income people, who predominantly are people of color. The additional costs, they claimed, could put a lot of companies out of business. They also argued that analogous industries — like the car-rental industry — has not been similarly obligated.
In Santa Barbara, it remains uncertain how many bike-share bicycles have been involved in accidents. BCycle company officials estimate there have been fewer than five in the first two years of operation. But the number of electric-bike accidents overall are starting to register as a matter of public concern because of the high speeds some of the ebikes can achieve — up to 28 miles an hour — and the youth and reckless abandon of some operators. Downtown, amidst the State Street promenade especially, this has fomented much grumbling. The models rented through BCycle, however, are engineered to go no faster than 17 miles an hour.