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UCLA Transportation agreement with e-scooter companies to impose new restrictions

UCLA Transportation and e-scooter companies began a one-year pilot program to restrict e-scooter use on campus and possibly offer discounts for students. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Stephen Wyer

Sept. 15, 2019 11:21 p.m.

A one-year agreement between UCLA and electric scooter companies will impose new restrictions on where students can use e-scooters and may also provide discounts for students using the devices.

The one-year pilot program, negotiated by UCLA Transportation with Bird, Lyft and Wheels, will take effect in the fall. The agreement is part of a UCLA effort to encourage students to use alternative forms of transportation such as e-scooters and electric bikes.

In addition to more closely restricting where e-scooters can roam, the pilot program also stipulates that the vendors will conduct safety training and outreach on campus, which will include distributing helmets at outreach events to students.

“Demonstrations on campus will cover how to safely ride and park e-scooters and e-bikes, rules of the road, in-app features and campus-specific policies,” said Alison Hewitt, a UCLA spokesperson, in an email statement.

She added that vendors will be required to distribute at least 100 helmets at tabling sessions, which will occur at least once a quarter.

Discussions regarding this provisional agreement began in spring when UCLA Transportation released a Request For Proposals – a document that solicits a proposal from businesses through bidding – to e-scooter vendors operating in Los Angeles. Vendors that wanted to keep their devices on campus had to file applications with UCLA.

Bird, Lyft and Wheels had their applications approved by the end of July, while other e-scooter companies such as Lime were ultimately denied approval. UCLA declined to comment as to why certain vendor’s applications were rejected. Hewitt said e-scooters from vendors not involved in the agreement can still be used at UCLA but will be impounded if parked on campus.

UCLA said its goal is to minimize the impact on pedestrians, improve safety and benefit students. To this end, UCLA has made infrastructure improvements on campus such as introducing new protected bike lanes, as well as repairing and repaving campus streets to create better riding conditions.

In conjunction with such efforts, the e-scooter vendors are implementing more sophisticated geofence software on their apps, which will prevent students from parking in restricted areas and keep e-scooters off sidewalks and pedestrian areas. A geofence is a virtual parameter in a physical area that, when crossed, will send a message to the user.

UCLA Transportation said in an email statement that some specific off-limit areas include Bruin Walk, Bruin Plaza, the north section of the Court of Sciences, Sunset Village and the pedestrian pathway along De Neve Commons, among other locations.

The city of Los Angeles also prohibits riding e-scooters on sidewalks, which includes those around campus.

The implementation of geofencing is meant to address complaints about the safety of e-scooters on campus. UCLA Transportation said it hopes to see a reduction in collisions and near-misses involving the devices as a result of the geofencing and safety improvements.

Shifra Goldstein, a third-year communication student, said she thinks geofencing areas such as Bruin Walk would improve safety. She added she thinks the streets around campus would still be viable for students who need to get to class quickly.

“So it doesn’t really matter if you’re going around, you’d probably get there faster than if you’re walking through the campus anyway,” Goldstein said. “So I think if it’s just Bruin Walk, then I think, that’s fine and that’s better for everyone’s safety.”

UCLA also sought to negotiate discounts for students and staff using the e-scooter apps as part of the agreement with the vendors. While UCLA Transportation has floated the idea of discounts on rides for low-income students, this proposal is still being discussed. Lyft stated that it is exploring staff and student discounts, but offered no guarantees as to whether such discounts would occur or when they might be implemented. Bird said it will offer discounts to qualifying low-income students, such as Pell Grant recipients.

The agreement and the improvements to infrastructure are part of UCLA’s approach to providing sustainable forms of transportation that minimize congestion and are environmentally conscientious, Hewitt said.

“UCLA Transportation would like to see reductions in emissions, traffic volume and congestion from the newly established agreement,” Hewitt said. ”Trips using an e-scooter or e-bike for intracampus and near-campus destinations would help replace the use of a vehicle.”

[Related: Popularity of brief Uber and Lyft rides on campus raises environmental concerns]

Mackenzie Long, a Bird representative said in an email statement that the use of e-scooters has made UCLA and Los Angeles considerably more environmentally friendly.

“In Los Angeles alone we have replaced thousands of short car trips with our more environmentally friendly option,” Long said. “UCLA, in particular, has expressed an interest in e-scooters reducing rideshare trips that are taken in and around campus. School officials have shared that they were already seeing a reduction in rideshare trips thanks to e-scooters.”

A study published in August in “Environmental Research Letters,” a peer-reviewed academic journal, found that e-scooters are a mixed bag in terms of their pollution impact. Choosing to use an e-scooter over an automobile with average fuel efficiency had a favorable impact on emissions causing global warming. However, the authors also noted that e-scooter companies needed to do more to reduce emissions caused by the manufacturing, short lifetimes and frequent charging of the devices.

Student takes on UCLA’s agreement with the vendors were mixed. Some said the restrictions on riding and parking would improve safety while others felt the agreement could hamstring the usability of e-scooters.

Eli Stefanacci, a third-year music student, said he thought scooter use on Bruin Walk was dangerous because of the concentration of pedestrians. He said he hopes this new agreement will incentivize students to park their scooters out of walkways.

“When the scooters are everywhere and people can’t walk through or people like me are on crutches or wheelchairs and there’s … scooters everywhere, that’s a pain,” Stefanacci said.

Andrew Liu, a fourth-year political science student, said he thought the new plan would incentivize proper parking and promote safety, but could potentially impact the usability of e-scooters on campus.

“People want to use this service in the first place to get to a specific location,” Liu said. “And given that there’s particularly a zone in which they wouldn’t be able to go directly through, that might be a toll on just their instantaneous wants.”

Contributing reports by Martín Bilbao, City and Crime editor.


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Stephen Wyer
Wyer is a news contributor.
Wyer is a news contributor.
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