Oakland, CA

Cite as: Carson Shealy, Oakland, CA, in University of South Carolina School of Law, Dockless Mobility: A Look into the Regulation of E-scooters, https://docklessmobility.org/case-studies/proactive-program-oakland-ca/ (last updated 2019).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Oakland’s emergence as an E-scooter hot spot is the process by which they have developed the program. Oakland originally allowed E-scooter operators to deploy the devices in the city without any specific regulations; city officials just required the E-scooter operators to obtain business permits.[1] After several months of observation, city officials dialed back their rules-free approach and implemented a set of regulations on E-scooter operators that are among the most ambitious in the country. Throughout the regulatory process, the City of Oakland conducted several community meetings throughout the city to hear concerns and suggestions from Oakland residents which are reflected in the city’s new regulations.

Community involvement has been a huge part of the successful implementation of Oakland’s E-scooter regime. The City of Oakland’s website has a page dedicated to E-scooters which identifies the principles behind the city’s shared mobility program as well as frequently asked questions and an option to email the Department of Transportation’s Shared Mobility Team with any questions or concerns.[2] The frequently asked questions section familiarizes residents with the laws and regulations regarding E-scooters in an easy to read and understand format while also providing direct links to the applicable California Vehicle Code provisions. Among Oakland’s shared mobility principles are commitments to racial equity, traffic safety, equitable access and affordability – principles that are geared towards achieving the goals established in the Oakland Department of Transportation’s Strategic Plan to improve the safe movement of people and goods in the city.[3] The city’s website also lists the dates of community forums and feedback meetings as well as providing a summary of the feedback from previously held meetings.

The Oakland Department of Transportation hosted an initial community input meeting in October 2018 at City Hall in which E-scooter operators were brought in to interact with the community present their vision for the enterprise while also addressing public concerns directly.[4] A link is provided for a video recording of the meeting for those who were unable to attend in person. Neighborhood feedback meetings were also conducted throughout in 2018 and included many of Oakland’s communities of concern. The city made sure to include low-income, commercial and minority neighborhoods as well as areas with adequate public transportation and those areas lacking in that department to ensure that each class of residents were able to make their thoughts and concerns heard.[5]

In the Terms and Conditions of Oakland’s permit application for E-scooter operators, there is a section dedicated to community engagement. E-scooter operators are required to receive and respond to complaints in multiple languages, provide a method for individuals to suggest E-scooter placement locations, and provide helmets for free or at a discounted price.[6]

While Oakland’s E-scooter regulations make great strides to provide access to E-scooters across the city, they haven’t been able to overcome every obstacle the city faces. One East Oakland resident says that he has trouble finding an E-scooter when he needs one.[7] He says that he often has to go downtown or to areas where there is a lot of commuter traffic to find an E-scooter.[8] The E-scooter operators have employees who collect the scooters at night to charge the batteries and then redistribute the devices in the morning but the locations for E-scooter placement are recommended by the operators’ apps.[9] As stated previously, Oakland requires E-scooter operators to deploy half of their fleet in low-income communities in an attempt to combat this issue.

The city’s interest in equal access to the devices doesn’t end there. The city also requires E-scooter operators to offer payment methods that don’t require a smartphone or credit card.[10] Oakland is also pushing operators for a discounted membership option. Under this option, E-scooter operators would allow low-income individuals who participate in certain state assistance programs to pay $5.00 in exchange for a yearly membership allowing them unlimited 30-minute E-scooter rides.[11] Oakland’s commitment to equitable access may be one of the reasons why their E-scooter strategy stands out amongst those employed by other city.

In addition to the city’s determination to provide city-wide access to E-scooters, Oakland places a heavy liability burden on E-scooter operators when compared to other markets. Oakland’s ordinance requires that E-scooter operators indemnify the city from any liabilities, costs, and damages for death, bodily injury, or property damage “resulting from, arising out of, relating to, or by reason of any act, error, or omission including both passive and active negligent conduct of Operator, its officers, directors, employees, Dockless Scooter Share Users, Customers. . .”[12] All cities which have implemented E-scooters as a form of ride-sharing have included indemnification clauses in their ordinances, but other indemnification clauses aren’t as far reaching as Oakland’s. Charlotte, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Nashville, and many more cities have limited their indemnification clauses to the E-scooter operators and their directors, agents and employees.[13] The additional requirement of indemnification by the E-scooter operator of claims arising out of a customer’s use of an E-scooter adds an extra layer of protection to the city and seems may be derivable to many cities.

While Oakland’s E-scooter program isn’t without its faults, it can likely be viewed as a success overall and generates mostly positive reactions from residents and city officials. Both prospective and current E-scooter markets could learn about how to handle the implementation of E-scooters by looking to Oakland as a guide. The process utilized by Oakland in developing this new ride-share program was unique, yet strategic in ensuring that the program achieved the goals that it was designed to meet. Oakland watched the progress of and issues surrounding e-scooters in San Francisco before inviting E-scooter operators to deploy the devices in Oakland after securing business permits. Then, after experiencing the benefits and problems associated with E-scooters first-hand, the city was able to draft a set a of regulations to crack down on the almost unrestricted enterprise. The city then spent months gathering more information and reaching out to the community for feedback and concerns which it then used to revise its permit application and regulations to reflect the needs of the city and its residents. It may have been a long, involved process, but Oakland’s approach to E-scooters ensured that the goals of the new ride-share system – low-cost, environmentally friendly, equal access – would be well represented.

[1] Rachel Swan, As San Francisco Banned Scooter Use, Oakland Embraced the Two-Wheelers, 2018, San Francisco Chronicle, https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/As-San-Francisco-banned-scooter-use-Oakland-13198380.php.

[2] City of Oakland, E-Scooters, 2018,  https://www.oaklandca.gov/topics/e-scooters.

[3] City of Oakland, Shared Mobility Principles, 2018, https://www.oaklandca.gov/resources/shared-mobility-principles.

[4] City of Oakland, E-Scooters, supra.

[5] Id.

[6] City of Oakland, Dockless Scooter Share Program Terms and Conditions + Permit Application, 2018, https://cao-94612.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/OakDOT-Scooter-Terms-Conditions-Dec-2018.pdf, (last visit Mar. 3, 2019).

[7] Eli Wirtschafter, Inside Oakland’s Plan to Make Electric Scooters Affordable for All, 2018, KALW, https://www.kalw.org/post/inside-oakland-s-plan-make-electric-scooters-affordable-all#stream/0.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] City of Oakland, Dockless Scooter Share Program Terms and Conditions + Permit Application, supra.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] “Charlotte Department of Transportation, Dockless Bike / E-Scooter Share Permit Requirements (2018), available at https://charlottenc.gov/Transportation/Programs/Documents/CharlotteDocklessBikeAndE-ScooterSharePermitRequirements.pdf (last visited Feb. 24, 2019).”

“City of Atlanta, An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 150 Traffic and Vehicles of the Atlanta City Code of Ordinances to Create Article X ‘Shareable Dockless Mobility Devices’ to Establish Regulations Related to Shareable Mobility Devices; and for Other Purposes (2019), available at https://www.atlantaga.gov/home/showdocument?id=39601 (last visited Feb. 10, 2019).”

“City Commission of the City of Fort Lauderdale, Ordinance No. C-18-16 (2018), available at https://library.municode.com/FL/fort_lauderdale/ordinances/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=914102 (last visited August 1, 2022)”

“Metro Government of Nashville & Davidson County, Tennessee, Second Substitute Bill BL2018-1202 (as amended) (2018), available at

https://filetransfer.nashville.gov/portals/0/sitecontent/Council/docs/amendments/2018/6-5-18.pdf (last visited August 1, 2022).”