S.F. Will Be Scooter-Free While City Chooses Permit Holders

Sidewalks will be largely free of scooters in June, while SFMTA demands tech companies abide with a new permit program.

Starting June 4, San Francisco will go nearly a month without seeing scooters on its sidewalks, city officials announced Thursday.

Any shared electric scooters found on the sidewalks after June 4 will be confiscated and used as evidence, City Attorney Dennis Herrera says Thursday. In turn, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency is accepting permit applications for a 12-month pilot program and hope to issue the permits by the end of June.

“These scooters present the opportunity for real transportation benefits,” Herrera says. “In the process, we cannot sacrifice public safety, privacy, and accessibility.”

It’s been an all-hands-on-deck situation for city officials since the shared electric scooters unceremoniously dropped onto city streets in March. The city has received 1,800 complaints about the dockless scooters blocking sidewalks, doorways and bus stops while riders illegally riding on the sidewalk have repeatedly bumped into pedestrians.

Another 500 scooters have been collected by the Department of Public Works, says director Mohammed Nuru. In just two months (can you believe it’s only been that long?) Herrera issued cease-and-desist letters for the hundreds of scooters, and the SFMTA developed a pilot program.

The program lays out requirements puts the onus on companies to ensure their customers are complying with local and state laws, like riding on the street and wearing helmets. They must also be transparent about user data they collect and allow users to opt-out.

Lime-S, Bird, and Spin are the three companies that currently offer motorized scooter sharing in San Francisco but have until June 4 to remove equipment from the streets and stop offering them through the app.

Interested companies have until June 7 to apply with a $5,000 fee. The permit fee will cost another $25,000 and the five chosen companies must put up another $10,000 for enforcement costs.

During the first six months, up to 1, 250 scooters will be allowed on the streets and another 1, 250 can be added for the remaining six months of the pilot program if things go alright. After the year is up, the SFMTA will decide whether to continue, modify, expand or terminate the permits.

But the “move fast and break things” ethos will not be forgotten as the SFMTA decides which companies will be permitted to operate scooter services.

“I think their past performance will be a good indicator of future performance and their ability to be compliant,” says SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin.

Still, Reiskin and Herrera asserted that the emission-free scooters could play a positive role — if the permits are successful.

“This is something we want certainly want to be supportive of,” Reiskin says. “Just because something is innovative, doesn’t mean it’s good for our city.”

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