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Shared Mobility Ridership Plummets During Pandemic

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By Jorge Casuso

May 17, 2022 -- Santa Monica's efforts to encourage alternate modes of transportation were dealt a major blow during the coronavirus shutdown, according to a report released by the City last week.

After a health emergency was declared in March 2020, Big Blue Bus (BBB) ridership dropped by 59 percent through the rest of the year, while shared mobility ridership plummeted by 77 percent.

And the numbers didn't change much in 2021 after the City launched a second Shared Mobility Pilot Program last July, according to the report to the City Council last Tuesday.

But ridership on the 2,200 e-scooters and e-bikes permitted is expected to make a comeback during the remainder of the program, which runs through next spring.

"Staff anticipates that as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and more public activity resumes, ridership will return to near pre-pandemic levels," according to the report prepared by Barbara Jacobson, the City's transportation management specialist.

"Correspondingly, staff anticipates that persistent rider issues that have largely subsided may once again become more prevalent as ridership levels increase."

Between July 1, when the second pilot program was launched, and March 31, riders generated 602,304 trips, according to data provided by the participating operators -- Lyft, Spin, Veo and Wheels.

The trips average 1.4 miles in distance and 10.2 minutes in duration, according to the report.

"While ridership growth has been slow to return to pre-pandemic levels, a core userbase continues to rely on these services for regular transportation needs," the report found.

According to a rider survey conducted in January, 42 percent of the respondents said they ride anywhere from once a week to daily.

Twenty-five percent reported riding one to three times a month, while 22 percent reported riding "only once or less than once a month," according to the report.

Of the 299 survey respondents, 41 percent said that they would have walked on their most recent trip if the devices were not available, while 45 percent said they would have made the trip by car, including paid rides.

More than half -- 53 percent -- "reported taking ride hailing services less often since first using shared mobility devices," according to the survey.

As expected, fewer devices on the road during the coronavirus emergency led to a drop "bad rider behavior" that includes haphazard parking and double riding, the report found.

Better devices, improved technology that detects riding on sidewalks, and more experienced riders also have contributed to the drop in bad behavior.

According to Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD), there were 16 total reported collisions involving shared mobility devices
between July 2021 and March 2022, according to the report.

Meanwhile, Code Enforcement issued citations for 40 violations and impounded 584 devices for "ADA blockages, being parked in the
street, and blocking the PROW, operator response times, amongst other violations."

Shared mobility devices are a much more expensive way to get around, when compared to buses and rail, the report said.

Mobility operators charge an unlock fee of $1 and between 33 cents and 39 cents per minute of use, compared to $1 per trip on the Big Blue Bus and $1.75 on the Expo train.

As a result, those who use mobility devices are more weathly, with nearly half -- 47 percent -- making more than $100,000 a year, according to the report.

"The issue of affordability for users who make less than $100,000 is a barrier for habitual participation and shared mobility use," according to the report.

"When asked 'What barriers prevent you from using e-scooters or e-bikes in Santa Monica?' 36% of survey respondents selected too expensive (the second most selected reason)."

The City's low-income program that requires operators to offer reduced rates had an enrollment of 307 riders.

The City launched its first Shared Mobility Pilot Program in September 2018.

Between July 2021 and March 2020, a total of 1,100 e-scooters and 1,100 e-bikes were permitted, according to the report.

Of the 2,200 devices permitted, an average of 1,513 were available during that period.

"Operators did not deploy the fully permitted amount because demand has been suppressed by the pandemic," according to the report.

The pilot program has the "potential to increase to the fleet cap of 3,250 devices based on demand," according to the report.

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