South Tahoe Police chief wants compliance from Lime; Company trying, blames bad cell service
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Police Chief Brian Uhler said he once favored Lime’s existence in South Lake Tahoe, but last week said his mind is changed.
Uhler led off a long discussion at Tuesday night’s, Oct. 15, city council meeting about Lime and the company’s non-compliance of electric scooter riders, especially with underage users and their use at Heavenly Village.
Uhler pointed to two incidents this past summer that happened where young kids, 11-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy, were seriously injured and were emergency airlifted to hospitals.
“The accident, that will scar her for life,” Uhler said. “And what if the boy died? How would the community respond? Is the program really worth the risk?”
Uhler said he rented a scooter the day after the girl was injured, actually two scooters on the same credit card and driver’s license, which is supposedly a no-no, and discovered on his ride that there was no stop at Heavenly Village and no slow zone as discussed for Lakeview Commons.
Lime’s Jonathan Hopkins, director of strategic development in the northwest, said later in the meeting during a presentation, that the company has tried to enforce all the rules to be in compliance, but ultimately, scooters don’t listen to their programmed instructions due to bad cell service.
“We work really well in cities with good cell service,” Hopkins told council. “As the cell system comes under more usage, that means the scooter may not get the signal. And at Lakeview, there is basically no service.”
Uhler and city staff made a list of about 20 provisions for a new shared mobility device ordinance and presented it to the council.
The goal was to get recommendations from council so that staff could put together a new ordinance for the city to review at its Nov. 5 meeting and get it approved fast enough where Lime could make adjustments before next year.
The provisions included a city permit for SMD operations; limit of 500 devices per SMD company; SMD company must secure all building permits prior to issuance of permit; 15 mph speed limit for all devices; requirement for system to not allow more than one device to be rented by any account holder, age requirement (18 and older), implementation of “full-stop” geofencing at Heavenly Village, implementation of slow zone (5 mph) ring 1,000 feet around Heavenly Village, slow zone area within and 1,000 feet around Lakeview Commons, permit fee of $75 per device, instead of 5 cents per ride fee and provision of two electric scooters for enforcement operations; implementation of a photograph-driven violation/fine program; requirement for SMD company to “ban” violating customers from future rentals and implementation of a permit revocation process, with authority granted to the city manager.
“I want something that we can honestly tell the public we tried to address the issue,” Uhler said, while also adding that he could get back on board with Lime if he saw improvements in the program. “I think we need to do everything we can to limit underage riders in our community. Kids are not savvy enough to ride around cars or traffic.”
Lime is on board with most everything on the list, but Hopkins said there should be more discussion on a few items, including the perimeters around Lakeview Commons and the village, the full stop zone at the village and that nobody should be banned for a first offense.
“At the village, full stop, people will just leave the scooters right where they stop,” Hopkins said. “At 3 mph, maybe they are able to get out of that zone if they want. One thousand yards around the village and Lakeview seems a little excessive.”
A representative from Heavenly Village told council that scooters there are hurting the guest experience.
Council got in on the discussion.
Councilor Cody Bass asked Lime why more than one scooter can be rented on one credit card and was disappointed to learn that the company tries not to keep much information.
“You should keep information, especially for enforcement,” Bass said.
When it comes to enforcement, Hopkins is completely on board.
There’s nothing Lime can do to stop scooters from traveling into the village on a busy day due to not good enough cell coverage so Hopkins told the Tribune that enforcement is key.
“A geo-fence over Heavenly makes sense and that combined with signage and enforcement through video cameras and/or a person would help. I think Heavenly is really important to deal with. We recommend enforcement as a tool.”
On underage users, Councilor Jason Collin said the city should do everything it can to mitigate underage riders, but feels like parents should be taking responsibility and keeping their kids off the scooters.
Councilor Devin Middlebrook wants the council to be data driven and wanted more concrete numbers on what the percentage is on underage usage.
The conversation on a new shared mobility device ordinance is likely to be discussed at the next council meeting. If city staff and councilors hammer out the details, the final ordinance could be put up for approval in December.
“We are equally vested in making it a good experience for everyone,” Hopkins said. “We are dedicated to collaboration. South Lake Tahoe is a great market if we operate in partnership.”