E-scooters are back

This week’s question comes from Phyllis D. in South of Market who asks:

Q: “Yesterday, I went outside and tripped over one of those damn electric scooter things, which was lying on its side on the sidewalk in front of my building. I noticed that it had the brand name “Skip” on it. I am “oldish,” with a vision impairment. I don’t use a cane, but I do have limitations on my field of vision. I was hurt, but no broken bones. I thought that the City had gotten rid of these things. Why are they back? They are a danger to people. I see them being ridden on the sidewalks, dumped on the sidewalk–even when they are standing, they block the sidewalk. What are my rights when injured by these contraptions?”

A: Dear Phyllis: The scooters are back, but not in the same swarm as before. In April 2018, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance that requires any enterprise providing a shared, powered scooter service in San Francisco to obtain a permit from the SFMTA to be able to have its scooters park on sidewalks. The unpermitted scooters were then ordered removed from San Francisco’s streets and sidewalks in early June after the City Attorney, Dennis Herrera, issued a cease and desist order to the companies operating the services. During the ensuing hiatus, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency established a permit process and accepted proposals from twelve e-scooter companies including HOPR, Jump, Lime, Uber, Lyft, OFO, Bird, Uber Razor, Ridecell, Scoot, Skip, Spin and UScooters. 

The SFMTA reviewed each permit application focusing on the abilities of the companies to minimize their impact on San Francisco’s sidewalks. Specifically, the SFMTA focused on the providers’ abilities and proposals to provide user education, maintain insurance, share trip data with the city, adopt a privacy policy that safeguards user information, offer a low-income plan, and submit a proposed service area plan for city approval. They were also required to demonstrate that they had a plan to address sidewalk riding and sidewalk parking, which may include measures like locking scooters to bike racks. Scoot and Skip were awarded the only two permits issues, each for 625 scooters. Lime, Uber, Lyft and the others were denied.  Several of these companies are now engaged in legal action challenging their exclusion.

The MTA also issued a set of guidelines and requirements for scooters. Under the new rules, scooters may only park on sidewalks that are at least nine feet wide and, even then, they must be parked as close as possible to the curb or alongside bike racks. Scooters parked on the sidewalk must be in line with and between fixed objects such as trees, trash cans, bike racks, or newspaper racks so that pedestrians are less likely to trip over them. They must be parked upright and in such a way that, if they fall, they do not protrude into areas where people walk, roll, or drive. Scooters cannot park against building facades, at curb ramps or crosswalks, where two pedestrian paths of travel intersect, in front of areas where passengers get onto and off of busses, or in loading zones (yellow or white curbs) or blue handicapped zones. Fire hydrants, emergency exits, and utility boxes cannot be obscured, and scooters may not be parked in front of doors, driveways, ramps, stairs, handrails, or vehicle or bike lanes.

Phyllis, from your story, it appears that the scooter that injured you was parked in violation of SFMTA regulations. The last rider and the operator, Skip, may both be liable for your injuries. Skip says that it has “tip over detection” which alerts it to when a scooter has tipped over. If a lawsuit is filed, through discovery, you can find out if Skip received a tip-over message and, if they did so, whether they negligently failed to pick up the scooter within a reasonable time. You should consult with a trial lawyer concerning your rights. 

In the future, if you see a scooter located outside of the permitted areas, you can call 311 and report it. The City will then notify the scooter company and give them one hour to remove it or it will be removed by the City and the carrier fined.

This question, and the issue of the impact on our community posed by these scooters, causes me to be concerned about the threat to public safety including the safety of the riders themselves so I will continue to dig deeper into this issue like I did with Uber and Lyft over the next several weeks.

Christopher B. Dolan is the owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email Chris questions and topics for future articles to help@dolanlawfirm.com.

We serve clients across the San Francisco Bay Area and California from our offices in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Our work is no recovery, no free or also referred to as contingency-based. That means we collect no fee unless we obtain money for your damages and injuries.

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