San Francisco's Scooter Invasion Halted

June 7, 2018

By Jacqueline Corba

Electric scooters vanished from the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco on Monday.

City officials insisted that ride-share companies remove thousands of their vehicles until they are approved for new permits that are designed to prevent the two-wheeled hop-on rides from overwhelming pedestrians and snarling traffic.

"I just got the notification yesterday and I was really surprised," Siana Popova, a San Francisco scooter commuter, told Cheddar's Hope King. "It just came into my life and now they are taking it away."

The decision to temporarily remove the scooters from streets comes after weeks of complaints from residents and business owners. Some people have taken to social media to call out examples of scooters littering property and shame scooter riders using with the hashtag #scootersbehavingbadly.

Unlike shared bicycles, which require docking at designated pick-up and drop-off locations, the scooters are freestanding ー riders can just grab them on the go, which is convenient. But they can also ditch the scooters wherever they want, causing sidewalk pile-ups.

The new permits would require scooter companies to demonstrate that they can minimize the impact on city sidewalks. Under the new regulation, the companies are also required to carry insurance, protect users' private information, share trip data with the city government, and provide rider instruction.

Permit applications began May 23 and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency expects to complete the review process by the end of June.

"We can have innovation, but it must keep our sidewalks safe and accessible for all pedestrians," said City Attorney Dennis Herrera in a written statement.

Scooter companies such as LimeBike charge $1 a ride, plus 15 cents per minute of travel aboard a single-person electric scooter. Frequent riders like Popova have said it's a convenient, easy, and fun way to get around a crowded city. But many San Francisco residents have quickly grown tired of scooters strewn about the city, and angered by the scooter companies that don't seem to care how their service is affecting pedestrians, traffic, and local businesses.

San Francisco supervisor Aaron Peskin, who pushed to create the regulatory framework, called the start-ups arrogant "petulant children who think they can have whatever they want without any government oversight" in an interview with The Guardian.

Only 1,250 scooters will be permitted on the street in the first six months of the city's new program, but the city could double that number depending on how the trial period goes.

Still, some of the scooter companies worry that the city's new regulations will curb their ambition. In an initial statement, a spokesperson for the scooter company Bird told Cheddar that the cap on the number of scooters would limit its ability to spread scooters around the city. Later, a Bird spokesperson said in a revised statement that the company had applied for a permit "to continue to offer our new transportation solution to reduce traffic and provide affordable rides to the people of San Francisco."

Euwyn Poon, the president of Spin, another scooter company that had 100 scooters on the street before the new permit requirement, said there was an overwhelming need for more accessible scooters, and the city's proposal was "a starting point."

"We'll see how the public reacts, and we'll take public demand back to the city," he said.

This friction with city authorities and pedestrians, however, hasn't scared off investors. Days after San Francisco's scooter ban went into place, Bird said it plans to raise as much as $200 million, a deal that could send its valuation to the $1 billion mark.