Only two e-scooter companies are legally permitted to operate their app-powered, two-wheel rental units in San Francisco. They are Scoot and Skip, whose small fleets are tightly regulated to prevent a repeat of the great scooter scourge that littered the contraptions across the city last spring. A modest pilot program is going well enough that SFMTA is considering allowing Skip and Scoot to double their fleets — provided they expand their user base to more low-income riders.
But rival scooter company Bird, whose $415 million in venture capital could not save their rejected SFMTA permit request, may break the peace. The Examiner reports that Bird has found a loophole to operate without permits, by offering the scooters as $24 monthly rentals instead of single-use rentals. Presumably, this might result in less sidewalk scooter detritus since riders would mostly keep scooters at home when not in use.
We should note that Bird scooters are not “back” on San Francisco streets. The Bird monthly rental website currently only lets you “Join the Waitlist.” So it’s a more cautious rollout than their launch-first, comply-later bombardment last March, but the company’s critics are still furious.
“Once again Bird is giving San Francisco the proverbial bird,” Sup. Aaron Peskin told ABC 7. “There might be a loophole in the law, if there is, I suspect given the thousands of complaints we received against Bird before we had our permitting system, that we’ll close that loophole.”
It’s probably not a coincidence that Bird’s one-month rental deal is only available in San Francisco and Barcelona, Spain, another city with strict scooter regulations. While Bird would argue that monthly rentals make them are a concierge service rather than a scooter rental service, this is clearly an attempt to skirt laws in certain, targeted markets.
When reached for comment, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told the Examiner, “we learned about this new program today, and are going to get more details to determine whether or not it complies with existing regulations.”
Scooter companies do love to tout their supposed environmental friendliness compared to automobiles. But a Quartz investigation found that Bird scooters have an average lifespan of only 28 days, which brings up some pretty pointed e-waste questions.
And it also makes you wonder if a 30-day rental is a good idea when the product only lasts for 28 days.