Remember way back in the spring, when hundreds of scooters appeared on San Francisco streets? Lime-S started the craze, with Bird and Spin immediately responding with dozens of their own. The backlash was nearly immediate: pedestrian safety advocates railed against the devices for blocking sidewalks, and several were smashed or thrown in the Bay. After months of drama and hundreds of 311 complaints, the Department of Public Works was tasked with collecting and storing hundreds of rogue scooters that had been released into the wild without permits. The SFMTA announced the launch of a pilot program application process, and for months, tech companies and its workers waited with bated breath for the results. On Thursday, they were announced. Scoot and Skip will share the first 1,250 permits.
“From bike sharing and moped sharing to microtransit, the SFMTA is using smart, sensible standards to regulate private sector mobility services safely, effectively and in the public interest,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation, Ed Reiskin. “While no application was flawless, we selected only the applicants with the strongest proposals for this one-year pilot program. Scoot and Skip demonstrated a high level of commitment to our city’s values of prioritizing public safety, promoting equity, ensuring accountability and safeguarding our shared, public spaces.”
Scoot has a long-standing presence in San Francisco; it’s been operating its electric moped-style scooters citywide since 2011. In its thorough, 117-page application, Scoot stood out from other companies for its obvious understanding of the diversity of issues San Franciscans care about — from environmental impact to employee wages and benefits. Scoot was the only applicant to suggest swappable batteries, which eliminates the need for collecting every scooter each night for recharging and redistributing them again each morning, thereby eliminating the extra vehicular traffic that would result from such activity.
Scoot was also the only company to commit to creating a multilingual platform; their customer service lines accommodate English, Spanish, Catalan, and Chinese. Their mobile app features English, Spanish, and Catalan (the latter, if you’re curious, is because they have a strong presence in Barcelona).
And making the scooters accessible to low-income communities is already on the agenda.”We are expecting to implement an automated sign-up and qualification process for users who are eligible through Calfresh, PG&E Care and Muni Lifeline as acceptable income verification proxies for affordability membership,” the application states.
Finally, the company plans to avoid the gig worker system, instead hiring and training workers. “Scoot has continued to hire and develop full-time employees at all levels of operations, avoiding over-reliance on part-time contract labor or gig economy workers.” Currently, 94 percent of the company’s staff is employed full-time with benefits.
Skip already has a scooter program in existence in Portland, OR, Washington D.C., and San Jose, Oakland, and Berkeley. In its application, the company stated that its product is more durable than competitors, making them more comfortable for riders and longer lasting. The battery is large, allowing for an increased life between charges. And its scooters fold, making moving them around more convenient.
“Skip’s current technology allows us to be the only operator beta testing electronic ‘tip over’ parking detection, and we are virtually alone with a working prototype of a ‘lock to’ mechanism to help solve the sidewalk parking issue,” the application reads.
Community engagement also appears to be a key goal for the company, which states their intention to create a 16-person Community Advisory Board with one member from each district. And in acknowledgement of the environment it’s entering, Skip has pledged $500,000 in donations to “organizations focused on training and retraining of workers for mechanic and other technical positions like City College of San Francisco, Tipping Point, and New Door Ventures.”
Internally, Skip does plan to employ “independent contractors” to charge scooters, but has committed to hiring 15 percent of this “street team” as registered employees. Scooters are picked up starting at 6 p.m. each evening in cars or on foot, an effort that is expected to last until 11:30 p.m. each evening. Scooters picked up for repair or recharging will be deployed between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily.
The SFMTA will release the permits of 625 scooters each to both companies on Oct. 15. After six months, they may be allowed to increase their numbers to 2,500.