Developing Story

Reckoning day for scooters

After months of waiting, scooter companies finally know their respective fates in San Francisco and Santa Monica, Calif. It’s been a long and laborious fight between Lime, Bird, Spin, et al. and the regulatory agencies that permit (or not) their operations. We now know how they all fared.

Skip and Scoot are the only companies awarded scooter permits in SF

The great San Francisco scooter decision has been made. And Skip and Scoot have claimed the prize.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) issued one-year permits to Skip and Scoot on Thursday, a decision that ends months of waiting for 12 companies that applied to operate within the city. JUMP, which Uber acquired in April, as well as Lyft, Skip, Spin, Lime, Scoot, ofo, Razor, CycleHop, USSCooter and Ridecell all applied for permits in San Francisco.

The permits will allow a maximum of 625 scooters for each company in the first six months. Scoot and Skip may have the potential to increase their number of scooters in months seven to 12 to a cap of 2,500, at the SFMTA’s sole discretion.

“The SFMTA’s decision is based on the strength of the proposals submitted by the two companies, combined with their experience of owning, operating and maintaining a shared mobility service in the public right-of-way. The agency looked for applications that prioritized the city’s concerns around safety, disabled access, equity and accountability,” the agency said.

The SFMTA noted in its decision that Skip and Scoot had the strongest applications. The agency seemed particularly interested in safety measures these companies planned to take. Scoot, which has been managing a fleet of shared electric mopeds in San Francisco since 2012, proposed mandatory instructional videos for users, helmets included in rentals and free in-person training.

Scoot also proposed using swappable batteries instead of manually taking the scooters off the street for regular recharging.

“This method could help the city reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled on San Francisco streets, which helps reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions,” the SFMTA said in its decision.

Scoot said it will soon introduce an electric kick-style scooter to its line-up of electric motor scooters and electric bicycles in response to the decision.

Unsurprisingly, the companies that lost out have expressed dismay with the decision.

“Jump both submitted a strong application and has a track record of successfully working with the city on our bike pilot,” an Uber spokesperson wrote in an email. “Granting only two scooter permits unnecessarily limits mobility options in San Francisco, and we plan to follow up with the SFMTA to share our concerns,”

Bird, a scooter startup that has $2 billion valuation, said it will continue to work with San Francisco officials, partners, community organizations and advocates in hopes of bringing Bird back to the City by the Bay, a spokeswoman said in an email.

Bird, which has a goal of operating in 50 cities globally before the end of the year, noted that residents have sent nearly 30,000 emails to city officials in support of bringing Bird to San Francisco.

The pilot program is the city’s solution to handling the scooter chaos of 2018. Bird, and soon after, Lime and Spin, released their fleet of scooters into the city in March without permission. They became an instant hit among city residents seeking fast and cheap ways to get around town. They also soon became a pariah as scooters inundated sidewalks and rights of way.

The SFMTA put a temporary ban on all scooters in May and initiated a permit process as part of a 24-month pilot program that would allow up to five scooter companies to operate in the city.

Bird, Lime, Lyft and JUMP didn’t completely lose out Thursday. The city of Santa Monica’s Shared Mobility Device Selection Committee officially awarded Bird, Lime, Lyft and JUMP Bikes permits to operate both electric scooters and/or bikes in the city as part of its 16-month pilot program beginning September 17.

Lyft, which remains hopeful that it will have the chance to offer scooters in San Francisco in the future, is now focused on Santa Monica.

“We are thrilled to have been awarded permits for both bikes and scooters by the City of Santa Monica,”  Caroline Samponaro, Lyft’s bike and scooter policy lead said in an emailed statement. “The city’s decision to collaborate with Lyft deepens a partnership that will reduce vehicle congestion, increase public transportation trips and provide equitable transportation solutions to all residents of Santa Monica.”

Santa Monica will allow Lime, Bird, Lyft and JUMP to operate e-scooters

The city of Santa Monica has officially awarded Bird, LimeLyft and JUMP Bikes, which Uber acquired in April, permits to operate both electric scooters and/or bikes in the city as part of its 16-month pilot program beginning September 17.

The city will allow Bird and Lime to each manage 750 scooters. Lyft and JUMP were granted permission to release 250 scooters each, as well as 500 bikes. In San Francisco, which is similarly launching a scooter pilot program this fall, city leaders chose Skip and Scoot as their official scooter providers.

Earlier this month, the committee had officially recommended to David Martin, the city’s director of planning and community development, that only Lyft and JUMP receive permitsLime and Bird, however, followed up immediately with a protest, asking their riders to speak out against the recommendations in hopes of reversing course. Looks like that strategy was successful.

“Bird is honored to have called Santa Monica our home since we first launched shared electric scooters less than 12 months ago,” Bird founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden said in a statement. “We have a shared mission of reducing congestion and emissions, and look forward to continuing partnering with the City and to serve our community. Bird is committed to providing Santa Monica residents and visitors the accessible, equitable, and responsible transportation option that they deserve.”

“We’re excited to bring scooters and bikes to Santa Monica soon,” a representative from JUMP Bikes said. “Our ultimate goal is to reduce reliance on personal cars, and we believe the best way to do that is to offer multiple modes of transportation — scooters, bikes, cars, public transit and more — in one app. We’ll continue to partner with cities in the right way to bring more options to more people.”

And here’s what Lyft had to say: “We are thrilled to have been awarded permits for both bikes and scooters by the City of Santa Monica,” Lyft’s bike and scooter policy lead Caroline Samponaro told TechCrunch. “The city’s decision to collaborate with Lyft deepens a partnership that will reduce vehicle congestion, increase public transportation trips and provide equitable transportation solutions to all residents of Santa Monica.”

Lime did not immediately reply to a request for comment. We will update the story when we hear back. The other contenders for a Santa Monica shared-mobility permit: Hopr, Razor, Scoot, Skip, Spin, Cloud, Drop and Goin’ did not receive permits and will not legally be able to operate scooters in Santa Monica.

Martin’s decision to stand by the committee’s recommendation is good news for Lyft and Uber, which are already the dominant players in the ride-hailing space and are now poised to dominate the scooter market as well. It’s also worth noting that Uber and Lime struck a deal this summer that will involve Uber pasting its logo on Lime scooters and investing $355 million in the company.

The city’s decision was based on several factors, including each company’s experience operating shared mobility devices, the company’s proposed operations plan and the company’s ability to launch operations in a timely manner. Additionally, the committee took into account the company’s history with compliance with local law.

Bird has been a contentious company among Santa Monica city leaders because of the nature of its entry. Taking a cue from Uber, Bird erupted onto the scene without official permission. Granted, at the time, the city didn’t have an official process for regulating bike-share and e-scooter startups.

SF and Santa Monica expected to award official permits to scooter companies today

The day has arrived. After more than two months of waiting, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is poised to determine which of 12 companies will successfully procure one of the city’s five permits. 

The permits are hot commodities for those competing for scooter market dominance, which includes Uber and Lyft, which applied for permits to operate e-scooters despite not yet having any. San Francisco is a key market for e-scooters; for some of these companies, failing to receive a permit could mean the end of the road.

Santa Monica, where Bird is headquartered, is also expected to award four permits for its electric scooter and bike pilot program today. Bird is the most valuable scooter startup; it hit a $2 billion valuation in June after raising hundreds of millions in venture capital funding. 

Bird, Lime and Spin — all of which applied for permits — were the three original players in the San Francisco scooter game. They released their fleet of scooters in the city in March without permission. As a result, the SFMTA asked the companies to temporarily remove the scooters in late May and initiated a permit process as part of the 24-month pilot program.

As part of the program, the city will allow only 2,500 scooters on the streets at once. Those chosen are required to provide user education and insurance, share the data of the trips with the city, have a privacy policy that protects user data and offer a low-income plan to their riders.

The other companies that applied for permits are Scoot, Ridecell, USSCooter, Skip, Ofo, Razor and Hopr (Cyclehop).

Shared electric scooters probably won’t return to SF until August

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is still reviewing the 12 applications from companies to operate electric scooters in the city. In early June, companies like Uber, Lime, Bird, Lyft and others applied for permits to operate electric scooter-share services in San Francisco. San Francisco’s permit process came as a result of Bird, Lime and Spin deploying their electric scooters without permission in the city in March. As part of a new city law, which went into effect June 4, scooter companies are not able to operate their services in San Francisco without a permit.

The SFMTA initially said it expected to make a decision about which five, if any, companies would receive permits by the end of June. Well, it’s now July and still no decision. The SFMTA expects to finalize its recommendations and documentation “in the coming weeks,” the SFMTA wrote in a blog post today. Once that’s done, the agency says it will work with companies to finalize and clarify the terms and conditions of the permit. The goal, according to the blog post, is to issue permits sometime in August.

As part of the 24-month pilot program, electric scooter companies selected to operate in the city will need to provide user education and insurance, share its detailed trip data with the city, have a privacy policy that protects user data, offer a low-income plan and operate in a to-be-approved service area. The city will allow no more than 2,500 electric scooters on the streets at any one time.

Despite the standstill in San Francisco, scooter companies are moving full force ahead, snatching up venture funding and partnering with larger players. Last week, Lime raised a $335 million round led by GV with participation from Uber. Late last month, Spin announced it’s closing a $125 million security token offering. That came shortly after electric scooter startup Bird raised a $300 million round led by Sequoia Capital.

For a breakdown of the ongoing scooter wars, be sure to read TC’s overview.

Silicon Valley scooter wars

Electric scooters have become the hot new area for startups and “innovation.” For those who haven’t been keeping track, there are three main players in the Silicon Valley scooter wars: Bird, Lime and Spin. Bird first launched in Venice, Calif. before expanding into San Francisco in March. It’s worth pointing out that Bird, for now, is strictly an electric scooter company. That’s not the case for Lime and Spin, which both have their own bike-share services deployed throughout various parts of the country and world.

That same month — almost in complete lockstep — Lime and Spin deployed their own electric scooters in the city. Fast forward to June and the city of SF has placed a temporary hold on electric scooters until it can review permit applications. As part of a new city law, which went into effect June 4, scooter companies are not able to operate their services in SF without a permit.

Twelve companies (Uber/JUMP, Lyft, Skip, Spin, Lime, Scoot, ofo, Skip, Razor, CycleHop, USSCooter and Ridecell) have applied for permits in SF, but the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency will issue permits for no more than five companies during the 24-month pilot program. The program would grant up to 2,500 scooters to operate in total, but it’s not yet clear how many scooters each company would be allowed to deploy.

Uber and Lyft’s entrance into the electric scooter space was expected, given that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told me in April that he had his eyes on electric scooters, and Lyft had reportedly been in talks with the SFMTA about its permitting process. But it became more official this past week when both companies applied for permits to operate in SF. Uber and Lyft, which have both recently announced public transit integration, are clearly vying to become the one-stop shop for all transportation needs.

The SFMTA said it’s aiming to notify companies of their permit status by the end of June. If issued a permit, companies must then pay an annual permit fee of $25,000, as well as a $10,000 public property repair and maintenance endowment. Companies must also share trip data with the city.

But the scooter moratorium in SF has little effect on the state of scooters as a whole. The last week alone has been filled with multi-million-dollar investments in electric scooter companies like Bird and Lime. Bird authorized a new $200 million funding round that could value the company at around $1 billion post-money, and Bird competitor Lime is also reportedly raising $250 million. 

Below, you can see where some of these newer players stack up in comparison to each other. This is just a look at companies that have deployed electric scooters in the United States.

Where the scooters at

California is the main hot spot for scooters in the U.S., but they have also popped up in Texas, Washington D.C., North Carolina and other states throughout the country. Unsurprisingly, regulation has proved to be an issue for many of these companies. In SF, the MTA is currently reviewing permit applications from electric scooter companies looking to operate in the city. The permit process came as a result of Bird, Lime and Spin deploying their electric scooters without permission in the city in March.

Over in Austin, dockless electric scooter startup GOAT says it’s working with the city to ensure its service meets the criteria laid out by regulators. Moving forward, GOAT says it’s actively working with other cities to pursue additional operating permits. In D.C., Skip, which is trying to differentiate itself by being more heavy-duty, worked with city officials and lawmakers to ensure it had the green light before launching.

Here’s an overview of where you can expect to see electric scooters throughout the country.

Outside of the U.S., Bird is looking at deploying scooters throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In February, Bird brought on Patrick Studener, a former international growth product manager at Uber, to serve as head of EMEA at Bird, according to Studener’s LinkedIn. Earlier this week, TechCrunch also spotted a job posting for a general manager in Europe to lead market management.

Meanwhile, a source sent us a photo of a Lime on the streets of Zurich, Switzerland. It turns out Lime is working with the city around some pilot programs with private businesses.

Building scooters

Many companies aren’t actually building their own scooters. Instead, they’re slapping stickers and logos on scooters that have been around for years. Lime, Bird and Spin launched using scooters from Ninebot, a Chinese scooter company that has merged with Segway. Ninebot is backed by investors, including Sequoia Capital, Xiaomi and ShunWei. But Lime, Skip, Spin and Bird are looking to change that.

In May, Lime partnered with Segway to launch its next generation of electric scooters. These Segway-powered Lime scooters are designed to be safer, longer-lasting via battery power and more durable for what the sharing economy requires, Lime CEO Toby Sun told TechCrunch last month. Now, instead of a maximum distance of 23 miles or so, Lime scooters can go up to 35 miles.

“A lot of the features in the past on scooters were made for the consumer market,” Sun said. “Not for the shared, heavy-duty markets.”

Lime scooter built in partnership with Segway

Bird is also experimenting with some new scooter models, but they seem to have modified versions of a Segway ES2. When reached for comment, Bird said it didn’t have many details to provide. Meanwhile, Skip does have plans to build its own custom scooters but currently modifies the Speedway Mini4 63V 21Ah scooters.

Skip scooter deck

With Spin, the company does have plans to build its own scooters, but isn’t ready to announce details. What Spin CEO Euwyn Poon would share with me is that the company has spun up a custom production line and supply chain.

GOAT, on the other hand, is deliberately taking the partnership route, having developed GOAT on top of a Segway scooter since the beginning.

“This decision was based not only on a superior quality scooter and the ability to maintain this quality at scale, but also our ability to work side-by-side with the Segway team in Changzhou, China and remotely here in Austin,” GOAT co-founder Jennie Whitaker told TechCrunch in an email. “We believe that it’s important to focus on what you’re the best at, which means allowing Segway to produce superior electric scooters while we focus on building technology to solve mobility problems for the world.”

A new side hustle

Just like ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft created new jobs, electric scooter companies seem to be doing the same. During some March public hearings in SF, companies touted how their respective services create jobs for people in low-income communities. Given that each player’s scooters need to be charged, they’re relying on everyday people to scoop up these scooters at night, charge them and then drop them off early the next morning.

Lime, for example, has its Juicer program. Bird has its Charger program, Spin has its Squad program and Skip has street team chargers. Spin pays $5 per scooter, Bird pays between $5 to $25 per scooter charged, depending on how hard it is to find the scooter. And Lime pays up to $12 per scooter, depending on the location.

In March, Harry Campbell over at The Rideshare Guy documented what it was like to be a charger for Bird. The TL;DR is that he had a good time and he could see how it would make sense for people looking to make some extra cash.

Scooter parking

Austin scooter parking

Moving forward, companies are looking at ways to ease some of its effects on sidewalk congestion, which has been a primary concern for city dwellers and legislators. In March, SF Supervisor Jane Kim said she didn’t envision handing out permits until the city could figure out a better way to dock the scooters. At the time, the SFMTA said the onus is on the companies to ensure proper docking and that it’s willing to work with each company around that process.

But over in Austin, the city has taken matters into its own hands. In May, the city adopted new rules that require riders to park in designated areas. This decision was inspired by some action Seattle took around dockless bicycles.

Each city will, of course, regulate in whichever way they think is best. But these designated scooter parking areas do seem like a solid way to ensure people aren’t tripping over scooters left in the middle of the street.

A fallen Bird in SF

In addition to figuring out a way to handle scooter parking, companies also have to worry about vandalism and theft. In SF, before the temporary ban, it wasn’t uncommon to see scooters with graffiti, cut wires or with dismembered parts.

Companies, of course, account for things like this and are keeping tabs. Lime told me lost scooters and vandalism affects less than one percent of its overall fleet across markets.

If you’ve made it this far in the story, I tip my hat to you. Be sure to holler at me if you see scooters behaving badly, launching in new markets or yelling at people on the streets.

Uber and Lyft apply for electric scooter permits in SF

Uber and Lyft have officially put their respective names into the electric scooter competition. Uber and Lyft are among the 11 companies that applied to operate an electric scooter-sharing service within San Francisco city limits. The city, however, will only offer up to five companies permits to operate as part of a one-year test program.

Uber declined to comment, but confirmed that it has applied for a permit via JUMP, the bike-share startup Uber acquired for about $200 million in April. Once Uber is cleared to operate electric scooters, the plan is to integrate them into the Uber app and continue fleshing out Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s vision for a full-fledged multi-modal transportation platform.

Lyft also confirmed to TechCrunch that the company applied for a permit, but declined to share any further details. Here’s the full list of companies that applied, via the SFMTA:

  1. Bird
  2. CycleHop
  3. JUMP via Uber
  4. Lime
  5. Lyft
  6. Ofo
  7. Razor (yes, *that* Razor)
  8. Ridecell
  9. Scoot
  10. . Skip
  11.  Spin
  12.  USSCooter

San Francisco’s permit process came as a result of Bird, Lime and Spin deploying their electric scooters without permission in the city in March. As part of a new city law, which went into effect June 4, scooter companies are not able to operate their services in San Francisco without a permit. The SFMTA said it’s aiming to notify companies of their permit status by the end of June.

Ofo has also confirmed its permit application, saying itsgoal is to get more people out of cars and into more affordable, greener transportation alternatives, and we’re excited for the opportunity to do that right here in San Francisco, where we recently submitted an application to operate our e-scooters. We’re looking forward to continue working with the city and are hopeful to start serving San Franciscans with our best-in-class operations team.”

Beijing-based Ofo, which is one of two billion-dollar bike-sharing companies from China, earlier this year asked the SFMTA to consider reopening the permit process and continue giving permits to other startups that fulfill the requirements and show a commitment to improving the city’s transportation system.

For more information about electric scooter regulation in San Francisco, be sure to check out my previous coverage.