The Great S.F. Scooter Experiment is over, and the two-wheeled shared electric vehicles are here to stay.
The winners that emerged? Four companies who may eventually be able to operate a total of 10,000 scooters citywide. Weeks before San Francisco’s scooter pilot program was set to end, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency announced that Lime, Spin, Scoot, and Jump permitted to operate scooters in San Francisco.
Notably, the first three were behind the arrival of scooters one day in March 2018 without prior permission from the city. (Scoot is now owned by Bird, which was denied a pilot permit. It’s also notable that Skip, which joined Scoot as the only two permitted under the pilot program, lost its ability to operate.)
The permit holders will initially be allowed to operate 1,000 scooters each and may increase it to 2,500, the number of scooters under the pilot program, after they hit performance benchmarks.
But they won’t be allowed to crowd them in the same area — only 40 percent can operate in the downtown core, which stretches down from SoMa to Fisherman’s Wharf. The remaining 60 percent must be distributed to other areas, particularly Bayview Hunters Point, Mission, Richmond, Inner Sunset, Haight, and Ingleside.
Since the SFMTA doesn’t want the chaos that came with its original dockless operations, the four scooter companies will also pay about $300,000 total to increase bike racks. As for labor, none of the companies proposed workers operating under the gig economy, and all employees operating scooters will have a W-2. They were also chosen for their low-income programs.
“Overall, we are really encouraged by the success of our scooter pilot and we believe that a well-regulated scooter system can be successful in San Francisco,” says Jaimie Parks, SFMTA director of livable streets. “Moreover, we’re confident that the four permittees that we’ve selected will be able to meet the high bar that we’ve set for them, and we look forward to expanded and enhanced service in San Francisco soon.”
It’s certainly an attitude change from the cease-and-desist letters sent by the city in 2018. SFMTA touted that 36 percent of scooter users said they would have used Uber or Lyft as a back-up, reducing rideshare rides. But 31 percent of users said the same of walking, 11 percent for public transportation, and five percent for driving alone.
There are still critical issues to tackle regarding scooters, namely low helmet use, injuries that may involve pedestrians, and proper signage to prevent illegal scooter use of the sidewalk, and diversifying the scooter base. (A survey from earlier this year found that most scooter users were white, male and affluent). And the four new official scooter companies are ready.
“We’re excited that the SFMTA recognized JUMP as a top vendor in awarding us a permit to operate scooters in San Francisco,” says a spokesperson for Uber, which owns JUMP. “We look forward to adding shared, electric scooters to the ebikes and rides that are already available on our mobility platform in our home town in San Francisco.”
The new permits will roll out on Oct. 15 and last for one year.