The electric scooter saga in San Francisco
Bird, LimeBike and Spin deployed their respective electric scooter programs in San Francisco last month without receiving explicit permission from the city. The city has been working with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency since late February to develop a permitting program.
Lime, Bird and Spin have to temporarily remove scooters from SF
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has officially made available its permit application for electric scooters to operate in the city as part of a one-year pilot program. Part of that means companies like Bird, Lime and Spin will need to at least temporarily remove their scooters from city sidewalks while their applications are being processed.
Lime, Bird and Spin — all of which deployed their scooters in March without permission from the city — have until June 7 to submit their applications. At that time, the SFMTA will review all the applications and aim to let companies know if they qualify by the end of June.
As part of a new city law, which goes into effect June 4, scooter companies will not be allowed to operate their services in San Francisco without a permit. Given that the SFMTA won’t start reviewing applications until the 7th, that means scooter companies will need to remove their scooters from city sidewalks by June 4. If they don’t, each companies respective scooters will be at risk of impound and fines of up to $100 per scooter.
“San Francisco supports transportation innovation, but it cannot come at the price of public safety,” SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera wrote in a press release. “This permit program represents a thoughtful, coordinated and effective approach to ensure that San Francisco strikes the right balance. We can have innovation, but it must keep our sidewalks safe and accessible for all pedestrians. We can have convenience, but it can’t sacrifice privacy and equity along the way. This program is a strong step forward. It provides the framework to ensure that companies operating in the public right of way are doing so lawfully and are accountable for their products.”
Lime scooters in SF
And if any company violates the law by operating electric scooters without a permit will automatically be denied a permit. The SFMTA’s application asks about things like scooter availability, proposed fleet sizes in disadvantaged communities, options for low-income people, processes for charging and deploying scooters, insurance and rider education. At a Board of Supervisors meetings in April some supervisors and members of the public expressed concerns around the lack of helmets and people riding on sidewalks. That’s where rider education would come in.
In order to submit an application, each company must make out a $5,000 check to the SFMTA to cover evaluation costs. If issued the 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.
Earlier this month, the city of San Francisco laid out its requirements for companies seeking to obtain electric scooter permits. The city 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, but it’s not yet clear how many scooters each company would be allowed to deploy.
Since Bird, Lime and Spin deployed their scooters, a couple of other companies have signaled their interest in electric scooters. Lyft, for example, is looking to launch a service in San Francisco. And Uber also has its eyes on electric scooters. In April, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told me the company plans to “look at any and all options” that would help move transportation options in ways that are city-friendly. And just earlier today, a company called GOAT launched some electric scooters over in Austin.
Here’s how SF wants to regulate electric scooters
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is gearing up to present its proposal for electric scooter permitting. This comes after the SF Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance for the SFMTA to create a permitting process to better regulate the plethora of electric scooters from Bird, Lime and Spin.
The SFMTA’s proposal lays out a 24-month pilot program, which would grant up to five permits and 500 scooters per permit. It’s up to the SFMTA Board of Directors to approve this proposal.
That means the city would allow no more than 2,500 electric scooters on the streets at any one time. In order to receive a permit, each company would need to first pay an application fee of $5,000 and show how they would ensure safe use and proper storage of scooters.
“The SFMTA supports innovative solutions that have the potential to complement our existing transportation network,” the proposal states. “Powered Scooter Share Programs introduce a new transportation option that may be convenient for users making short trips or as a “last mile” solution when paired with public transit. Furthermore, if Powered Scooter Share users replace trips they would otherwise have taken by automobile, they have the potential to reduce traffic congestion, parking demand, and carbon emissions. SFMTA staff have received numerous emails from Powered Scooter Share Program users expressing their support for these programs.”
The SFMTA’s proposal also describes how the city has received numerous complaints from residents pertaining to electric scooters. The complaints cover improper parking that blocks sidewalks and access to doors, as well as someone tripping over a scooter that was left on a sidewalk.
“This is of particular concern to members of the public who travel in a wheelchair or who have visual impairments, and have greater difficulty seeing and avoiding (or moving) Powered Scooter Share Scooters blocking their path,” the proposal states. “The SFMTA has been informed of one instance in which a person with a visual impairment fell after tripping on a scooter, as well as a report of a person breaking a toe after tripping on a Powered Scooter Share scooter.”
As of earlier this week, the San Francisco Department of Public Works had impounded 319 scooters, resulting in impoundment fees of $5,774 for Bird, Lime and Spin. As part of the proposed permitting process, companies would need to pay $10,000 for a “public property repair and maintenance endowment” in the event the city incurs additional costs due to the damaging of public property or needing to store improperly parked scooters.
The SFMTA Board of Directors is holding a public hearing next week to consider implementing this permit process.
Update 5/4: On May 1, the Board approved the proposal.
SF supervisor doesn’t want you riding electric scooters on sidewalks
For those of you keeping track of the scooter saga in San Francisco, Supervisor Aaron Peskin has filed a resolution in opposition of California State Assembly bill 2989. The bill, authored by Assembly Member Heath Flora and sponsored by electric scooter startup Bird, seeks to allow top speeds of 20 mph, let people ride them on sidewalks and only require minors to wear helmets.
“It is disturbing that the same companies and investors who have pledged to work with the City to respect California public safety and public realm laws are spending lobbying dollars in Sacramento to repeal them,” Peskin told TechCrunch via email. “San Francisco is a Transit First City and has committed to some of the strictest environmental and Vision Zero protections in the state. AB 2989 would dismantle those hard-fought protections, and send a message that seniors, parents with kids and the disabled aren’t welcome on San Francisco’s sidewalks.”
But Bird says the intent of the pending legislation is to bring e-scooters into parity with e-bikes.
“It also empowers cities and municipalities in California to pass whatever rules are best for their communities including where to ride an e-scooter,” Bird spokesperson Kenneth Baer told TechCrunch in an email. “We think that is the best approach for cities — as well as riders — and an approach that most cities in California prefer when it comes to policymaking. If there are language improvements to make it clear that cities should be able to set ridership rules, then we are open to that.”
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and the Municipal Transportation Agency are actively creating a permitting process to better regulate scooters. The intent is to ensure “sensible, regulatory frameworks,” Peskin said earlier this week. In legislative meetings earlier this week, members of the public and supervisors expressed concerns pertaining to people operating scooters on sidewalks, as well as people riding them without helmets. This bill, introduced back in February, would essentially enable the opposite of what San Francisco envisions.
“While San Francisco policymakers pursue common sense regulation of standup electronic scooters to enhance the public benefit of this new shared mobility technology and to reduce potential harm to the public, state legislators seek to eliminate elements of the Vehicle Code that exist to protect the health and safety of members of the public including users of standup electric scooters,” Peskin wrote in his resolution.
Electric scooter permits will be required in San Francisco
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted today to approve the ordinance that looks to regulate electric scooters in San Francisco. The ordinance seeks to establish regulation and a permitting process that would enable the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency or Department of Public Works to take action against scooters from companies that don’t have an official permit from the city.
“Part of the brouhaha has been really the function of the fact, which was admitted yesterday, was that some of these companies have been a little bit fast and loose with the truth,” Supervisor Aaron Peksin, a sponsor of the ordinance, said today at the Board of Supervisors meeting.*
Peskin is referencing the fact that Lime, Spin and Bird deployed their respective scooters without permission from the city. The permitting scheme the city has in mind, Peskin said, is very similar to the one San Francisco has in place around stationless bike-sharing.
“This is a basic permitting scheme to allow the professional staff at SFMTA to permit these with sensible, regulatory frameworks and to be able to confiscate unpermitted vehicles or devices,” Peskin said.
He added that these electric scooters can absolutely serve some benefits to people in San Francisco, but that it does not mean the city should have to sacrifice its sidewalk space. The next step is for the BOS to continue working with the SFMTA to develop this regulation. At a hearing yesterday, the SFMTA said it hopes to open up the permitting process by May 1.
Earlier in the meeting today, the BOS adopted a resolution to develop a working group to inform future legislation around emerging technologies. One of the resolution’s sponsors, Supervisor Norman Yee, noted how he’s heard from seniors and people in wheelchairs who are “being imperiled and inconvenienced because they are having to navigate around scooters and bikes.”
He later added, the purpose of the working group would be to ensure the city is mindful of both the intended and unintended consequences of emerging technologies.
Yesterday, SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent cease-and-desist letters to Lime, Bird and Spin, but that doesn’t seem to be making any difference to Lime, Bird and Spin. All three of their respective scooters were found on the streets of San Francisco this morning.
“As it says in the letter, the City Attorney has laid out some recommendations for operation that he will like to see implemented by April 30; he has not requested an immediate stoppage of service,” a Bird spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are taking his concerns very seriously and reviewing his recommendations for improving Bird in San Francisco.”
Lime says it’s taking the City Attorney seriously, as well as the vote by the BOS today.
“In response, we are updating our current community outreach plan to address the City’s concerns about pedestrian safety, parking compliance, and rider education,” a Lime spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We plan to roll out new initiatives, along with our complete response to the City Attorney by the end of next week.”
Lime says it will also provide helmets to users, which will we able for pickup starting April 22. Similar to Bird, Lime will also start requiring people to submit a photo of their properly parked scooter at the end of the ride. Additionally, Lime says it will more clearly state that riding on or blocking sidewalks is illegal.
I’ve reached out to Spin about its operations in San Francisco. I’ll update this story if I hear back.
An earlier version of this story misattributed Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s quotes to another supervisor.
Electric scooters are getting closer to regulation in SF
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee has been working with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to develop a permit process to enable the SFMTA to regulate e-scooter share companies. Today, the Committee heard proposed legislation regarding permitting and enforcement of shared, electric scooter programs. The next step is for this to move forward to the Board of Supervisors for further consideration.
In the last month or so, three different scooter-share programs (from Bird, LimeBike and Spin) deployed their respective e-scooters without explicit permission. This has resulted in a number of scooters being left on the sidewalks and even on MUNI trains.
“I’m very annoyed with how these companies moved forward the last couple of weeks,” Supervisor Jane Kim, a sponsor of the legislation, said today.
The big takeaway from today is that all of these scooter companies jumped the gun pertaining to deployment in San Francisco.
“To say that you asked us for permission and implied we gave you that permission” before deploying the scooters, Supervisor Kim said, “isn’t the best way to build trust.”
Similar to what the city did around dockless bikes, the city is looking to do the same with dockless scooters. The idea isn’t to ban them, but rather to ensure there are rules and regulations around scooters, and that they don’t cause a public nuisance. If all goes according to plan, the SFMTA said it hopes to open up the permitting process May 1.
Earlier today, SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent cease-and-desist letters to all three of the companies, requesting a response by April 30. Although there is no proposed complete ban, it’s quite obvious that Supervisors Kim and Aaron Peskin are not happy with each respective startup’s approaches to launching their scooters in San Francisco without explicit permission.
“It’s clear that many of these companies continue to build corporate empires off of a basic premise — making massive profit always trumps protecting the public and innovation is only possible by cutting corners,” Peskin said.
In his opening remarks, Peskin also touched on how this is not emergency legislation, despite what Bird wanted some people to think. He also noted how he and other supervisors have received numerous complaints from the public about the recent proliferation of scooters.
Many of those comments were vocalized today. In the public comment portion, residents expressed concerns of these scooters taking up too much space on sidewalks, and becoming hazards to seniors and people with disabilities. On a couple of occasions, citizens also spoke to concerns of arrogance and elitism that e-scooters represent.
On the other side, members from a local community group in the Bayview neighborhood expressed how some of the companies, like Lime, are proactively working with their communities and even hiring community members to work for them.
Representatives from Lime, Spin and Bird also chimed in. LimeBike said its looks forward to “a fair and transparent process that balances the real and serious concerns of the public.” Spin similarly said it has no intention of doing anything that conflicts with any local or state laws. Bird, on the other hand, went a step further and asked for a window to continue operating while the city figures out its permitting process.
The proposed legislation looks to establish a violation for electric scooters left on sidewalks that do not have a proper permit from the SFMTA.
“With a permit, we would require the scooter share companies to educate their users on how to ride and park responsibly and hold the companies accountable to produce good behavior from their users,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told TechCrunch.
Here’s a key gist from the ordinance:
The proliferation of [Powered] Scooter Share Programs, which include motorized scooters that can be secured without being locked to a fixed object, has the potential to cause obstructions of public right-of-ways and, in the absence of sufficient education as to existing laws, cause a myriad of other safety hazards for both users of [Powered] Scooters as well as members of the public more generally. The Administrative Code defines a “public nuisance” as any “thing or condition, including but not limited to violations of the Municipal Code or State law, that threatens injury or damage to the health, safety, welfare, or property of members of the public, that obstructs the free use of property of others or of the public right-of-way or commons, or otherwise interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property.”
Following the public comment portion, the committee members had some specific questions for Bird and Spin. Supervisor Kim noted she’s seen several scooters that are tipped over.
“Within the first week, I had seen several that had been pushed over,” Kim said, adding that she’s concerned about safety and the long-term viability of the programs.
In response, Bird Director of Government Affairs Carl Hanson said the company can usually get someone out there within two hours, but Supervisor Kim said that’s too long. In response to a question about proper scooter parking, Hanson said Bird now requires users to take a picture at the end of the ride to prove the scooter is parked properly.
While the SFMTA aims to open up its permitting process early next month, Supervisor Kim said she doesn’t see this working unless docking is in place.
“I don’t think we can permit this until we figure out how to dock them,” Supervisor Kim said.
The SFMTA, however, said the onus is on the companies to ensure proper docking and that it’s willing to work with each company around that process.
Bird, Lime and Spin receive cease-and-desist letters from SF City Attorney
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bird, Lime and Spin for operating their shared electric scooter programs in San Francisco.
“Despite previous warnings, your company LimeBike (“Lime”) has continued to operate an unpermitted motorized scooter rental program in the City and County of San Francisco (the “City”), creating a public nuisance on the City’s streets and sidewalks and endangering public health and safety,” City Attorney Herrera wrote specifically to Lime. “Lime must immediately cease and desist from unlawful conduct, as we provide further below.”
City Attorney Herrera wrote nearly identical letters to Spin and Bird. The letters say the companies have ignored warnings and operate in a way that is “creating a public nuisance on The City’s streets and sidewalks and endangering public health and safety.” Other complaints entail concerns of fall hazards and excessive use of public sidewalk space.
The letters also provide suggestions around ways to ensure people properly park the scooters. Each company has until April 30 to report back regarding how they’re going to address the complaints.
“We received the letter from the San Francisco City Attorney and we are taking his concerns and recommendations for improving Bird in San Francisco very seriously,” Bird spokesperson Kenneth Baer said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We are confident that by continuing to work with the city, we can build a framework that can make San Francisco a leader in bringing new mobility options that curb traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Bird said it’s also going to start requiring riders to take a photo of where they park their Bird scooters.
“This will help Bird take action to ensure frequent violators of Bird’s parking rules are suspended or deactivated,” the Bird spokesperson said.
In the meantime, the Department of Public Works will continue to impound scooters that unlawfully block sidewalks.
Meanwhile, the SF Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee heard proposed legislation and comments from the public pertaining to electric scooters today.
“We have been engaging with city officials since February and were the only ones to reach out proactively before there was any legislation or deployment,” a Spin spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We applaud city officials efforts to work with us in ensuring that we can bring environmentally-friendly transportation alternatives to San Francisco, and we support Supervisor Peskin’s legislation to regulate e-scooters and are eager to continue the conversations around these regulations. We are working to ensure that we comply with any of the outlined recommendations we don’t already have in place. As the only San Francisco-based company offering scooter share, it’s extremely important to us to continue working with the SFMTA, Board of Supervisors and community interest groups, such as Walk SF and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, to ensure that we’re addressing public concerns.”
I’ve reached out to Lime. I’ll update this as I learn more.
San Francisco will regulate electric scooter sharing
Electric push scooters have recently hit the streets of San Francisco. Over the last couple of weeks, LimeBike deployed some scooters in conjunction with local festivities in the city. And just yesterday, Bird launched its scooters in San Francisco. Spin has also deployed some scooters in the city. As it stands today, these scooters from companies like LimeBike, Spin and Bird are currently operating in a bit of a legal gray area.
That’s why the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is currently looking to create legislation, in collaboration with SF Supervisor Aaron Peskin, to “create appropriate permits and requirements to regulate motorized scooter sharing in the public right-of-way,” an SFMTA spokesperson told TechCrunch. “In the meantime, shared scooters are not explicitly covered in the Transportation Code.”
In separate letters to Spin, Lime and Bird today, the SFMTA let each company know it is aware they have respectively placed shared electric scooters on the sidewalks.
“As you may know, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is developing a permitting program for motorized scooter sharing systems,” SFMTA Director of Transportation Edward Reiskin wrote in the letter. “We request your cooperation as we finalize the legislation and permit application.”
The SFMTA is asking each company for their respective business plans, detailing how they will comply with the city’s requirements around the use of sidewalks, plazas and other public spaces. The SFMTA also wants the plans to describe if and how the scooters will use any bike racks or other existing infrastructure, if there will be any new types of infrastructure built, how it will ensure there’s not over-concentration of scooters in one area, how many scooters the companies plan to deploy and how the companies will ensure the scooters are maintained.
“We will not tolerate any business model that results in obstruction of the public right of way or poses a safety hazard,” Reiskin wrote.
Update 9:48pm: Spin has since gotten in touch with TechCrunch to say the company has been “completely transparent” with the SFMTA and members of the SF board of supervisors.
“Unlike the other operators here, we reached out to the appropriate stakeholders before operating in San Francisco,” Spin co-founder Euwyn Poon told TechCrunch. “After we solicited feedback and suggestions from them on piloting our scooters in a safe, responsible way, we began deploying small batches of scooters to test and collect data. Since then, we’ve been providing regular updates to and sharing data with SFMTA and other city stakeholders.”
Since these companies have already deployed their scooters, the SFMTA is asking to receive a response by the end of next week. While scooter-sharing isn’t explicitly outlined in the city’s transportation code, it is illegal to place a scooter in a way that obstructs the sidewalk, the SFMTA spokesperson said. It’s also illegal to ride these scooters on sidewalks, and ride them without a helmet.
“The SFMTA would urge any potential operators of new transportation services to work closely with the SFMTA prior to launching a new program,” the spokesperson said. “While we welcome improved mobility options, we want to carefully consider the potential benefits and impacts of any new private transportation service to ensure that it serves the public interest.”
LimeBike, which unveiled its scooters last month, has been in communication with elected officials and the SFMTA, noting that there are no city ordinances that prohibit a shared scooter system in the city, a LimeBike spokesperson told TechCrunch. While the city works to regulate scooter sharing, LimeBike says it is a limited pop-up program.
“As a Bay Area headquartered company, LimeBike is fully committed to ensuring we are positive contributors to San Francisco,” the spokesperson said. “We are excited to continue working with the SFMTA, Board of Supervisors and community as the formal permit process is developed, to identify mobility solutions that meet the City’s equity goals and help connect all parts of the city.”
Bird also says it started talking with the SFMTA before launching in the city, a Bird spokesperson told TechCrunch. Bird also says it welcomes the letter from Reiskin, SFMTA’s director of transportation, and looks forward to “working with him to develop a regulatory framework to bring these new electric vehicles to San Francisco so we can curb traffic, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help more people get where they need to go.”
A JUMP bike alongside a Bird scooter in San FranciscoEarlier this year, the SFMTA granted an exclusive, 18-month permit to electric bike-sharing startup JUMP. The program is designed to enable the SFMTA collect data and assess if a program like this will work in the long-term. Similar to what the SFMTA did around car-sharing, the aim is to better understand the needs and impacts of this type of mobility service.