Motorized Scooters

Motorized Scooters (Photo credit: KCBS Radio)

Ride On

E-Scooters Will Soon Return To San Francisco

Carrie Hodousek
August 30, 2018 - 8:42 pm

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS Radio) —More than a thousand of the controversial, dockless e-scooters will soon be back on San Francisco's streets under a pilot program beginning this fall, the city's transportation agency announced on Thursday. 

The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency chose two companies —  Scoot Global and Skip — to operate a "safe, equitable and accountable scooter share service." 

The Board of Supervisors tasked the transit agency with establishing a regulated program after cracking down on a sudden influx of electric scooters less than three months ago. 

The pilot program will begin on October 15, and initially cap the number of motorized scooters at 1,250, potentially increasing to 2,500 after six months.

The SFMTA reviewed 12 applications for 5 available permits, including bids from the three companies that first unleashed hundreds of scooters on the streets without asking permission: Bird, Lime and Spin. City Hall was inundated with complaints that the scooters were blocking sidewalks and menacing pedestrians. On June 4, the city sent cease-and-desist letters to the companies and impounded scooters until a pilot program could be established.

Also rejected were bids by Uber and Lyft, who are both venturing into alternatives to their car-based offerings. Some observers interpret the slight as payback for the companies’ history of not playing by the rules as they built their now-dominant ride hailing services. However, Uber’s Jump bike share program is currently the only dockless bike share with a permit to operate in the city.

Since 2012, Scoot has operated a fleet of electric Vespa-like scooters in San Francisco that riders reserve and ride using an app. The SFMTA praised Scoot’s plans to require riders participate in mandatory safety training. Scoot’s models will also feature swappable batteries, instead of requiring them to be taken off the streets for re-charging, which the agency said will reduce vehicle emissions.

The agency also highlighted Skip’s proposal to provide helmets and deploy ambassadors on the street to teach scooter safety and road etiquette. Skip will also establish an advisory board to respond to any community concerns about the program. 

A state bill passed by the legislature and awaiting Governor Brown’s signature would allow adults over age 18 to ride without helmets, although the SFMTA still emphasizes their importance for riders’ safety.

The announcement comes days after Mayor London Breed released a scathing open letter to SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, decrying the problems plaguing the agency and the “opaque process to select scooter pilot permit recipients.” 

San Francisco is not the only city wrestling with how to regulate app-based e-scooters: Santa Monica, Milwaukee, and Baltimore are also trying to figure out where the battery-powered rides fit on their streets.

Written by Jordan Bowen.