People ride bicycles down the boardwalk in Mission Beach as a dockless electric-assist LimeBike stands idle. THOMAS MELVILLE / BEACH & BAY PRESS
Bird and Lime scooters parked in a beach accessway in Mission Beach last week. THOMAS MELVILLE / BEACH & BAY PRESS
Opinion is mixed regarding the surge of dockless vehicles. Is dockless an unjustifiable threat to rental shops? Or is this transportation trend the green alternative that will reduce traffic issues? Can both be true?
Presently, four dockless vehicle companies – Bird, Ofo, LimeBike and Mobike – have moved into town in a big way, scattering their bikes and scooters across the landscape.
Beach & Bay Press recently conducted an impromptu survey of small-business owners, locals and tourists, soliciting their views on dockless vehicles.
The situation is ironic, claimed Jeff Russell, owner of Surf Monkey Bikes at 853 Grand Ave. Russell said he was “the first one to sound the alarm,” when Discover Bike (formerly DecoBike) moved its docked bike share stations onto Pacific Beach’s boardwalk. Those have since been removed due to public protest over their alleged unsightliness, and unfair competition with local business.
“It’s funny in one way,” said Russell. “One of the Discover Bike owners came in here yesterday and wanted to know what I was going to do about dockless!
“Dockless sends a terrible message: That you can use something and cast it aside without consequence when and wherever you want. You are basically saying don’t go in a bike shop,” added Russell.
“If you can’t rent a car without a seat belt, how can you provide a scooter without a helmet? It’s the law! The question isn’t, if someone is going to die down here. It’s when,” Russell said.
Passersby on Garnet Avenue, in general, were more receptive – and less critical – of the dockless bikes.
“I don’t think they’re an issue at all if it gets people out of cars, especially when you consider, here at the bay, so many of the people working here ride bikes,” said Christine Kelly, a Pacific Beach resident.
John Leonard of PB was impressed by dockless.
“It’s a brilliant business idea, a centralized model,” he said. “I wish I would have thought of it.”
Leonard, however, admitted: “I wish people were more considerate with them. You see them parked in the middle of the sidewalk – that’s become a problem.”
Would Leonard try dockless out?
“It’s created a stigma,” he answered. “I almost don’t want to be a part of it.”
Todd Gudat, owner of Pacific Beach Swings & Things at 4500 Ocean Blvd., took a dim view of dockless. “I don’t like them,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s fair for us local businesses. I rent out bikes and skateboards, and I have to have a business license to sell them in front of my store. But anyone can park one of these [dockless] bikes next to mine. Honestly, I shouldn’t have to pay my business license this year,” Gudat said.
(The dockless vehicle companies are required to have a business license.)
“It’s affected my business by 40 to 60 percent,” Gudat said.
Kevin, an employee at South Coast PB, at 740 Felspar St., also had no use for dockless.
“They just get in the way and they’re all over,” he said. “It’s really just an eyesore. We haven’t had them in front of the store. But I’ve had them in front of my house, and have seen them kicked over and destroyed by people who hate them.”
Outside a tattoo parlor, Champ Grubbs, of PB/Clairemont, said, “I’m a little worried that I’m going to run one of ’em over.
“They just kind of zip in and out of traffic off the sidewalk. Seems like a lot of people that are riding them don’t know what the hell they’re doing. I’ve almost hit a few people already, and I’ve seen a few people almost get hit,” Grubbs said.
Zack K., visiting from Milwaukee, was checking out a Bird for a prospective ride.
“I was trying to figure out what the heck it was,” he said. “I was debating whether or not I should give it a whirl. I’m just kind of wondering how long they stay charged, how much are they a scooter?”
“If it takes cars off the road – I’m all in favor of it,” said Angela Skopniek of PB. “They’ll never be able to stop [dockless]. It’s just too easy. Too fun.”
Joe and Deb Tombers, a mature couple visiting from Minneapolis, were open minded about dockless.
“I like bicycles,” said Joe. “Wherever bikes are, to me, that’s good.”
Deb was more concerned. “Walking on the boardwalk, between the bikes and scooters, it seems some of them are just going really too fast sometimes,” she said.
San Diego Police Department spokesman Lt. Brent Williams says there are a myriad of state and city laws affecting the ability of dockless bike-sharing companies to operate as these do.
“The City has sent a letter to each operator to ensure they are fully aware of those state and local regulations,” Williams said. “These are new businesses that have been operating in San Diego for less than a month. Our intent, is to help educate them and their customers about the rules and regulations around using these bicycles and scooters responsibly in our city.”
Williams said the City treats any object left in the public right-of-way similarly.
“SDPD has the ability to move and/or impound objects if they are blocking the right-of-way,” he said. “However, working directly with the property owners to remove their property from the right-of-way is preferred.
“This issue is so new, there is no record of an enforcement effort by the police department, specifically against the companies that own these bikes,” Williams said. “Our enforcement would be against the rider in violation of the current local or state laws the department enforces.”