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Electric scooters are getting closer to regulation in SF

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee has been working with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to develop a permit process to enable the SFMTA to regulate e-scooter share companies. Today, the Committee heard proposed legislation regarding permitting and enforcement of shared, electric scooter programs. The next step is for this to move forward to the Board of Supervisors for further consideration.

In the last month or so, three different scooter-share programs from Bird, LimeBike and Spin deployed their respective e-scooters without explicit permission. This has resulted in a number of scooters being left on the sidewalks and even on MUNI trains.

“I’m very annoyed with how these companies moved forward the last couple of weeks,” Supervisor Jane Kim, a sponsor of the legislation, said today.

The big takeaway from today is that all of these scooter companies jumped the gun pertaining to deployment in San Francisco.

“To say that you asked us for permission and implied we gave you that permission” before deploying the scooters, Supervisor Kim said, “isn’t the best way to build trust.”

Similar to what the city did around dockless bikes, the city is looking to do the same with dockless scooters. The idea isn’t to ban them, but rather to ensure there are rules and regulations around scooters, and that they don’t cause a public nuisance. If all goes according to plan, the SFMTA said it hopes to open up the permitting process May 1.

Earlier today, SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent cease-and-desist letters to all three of the companies, requesting a response by April 30. Although there is no proposed complete ban, it’s quite obvious that Supervisors Kim and Peskin are not happy with each respective startup’s approaches to launching their scooters in San Francisco without explicit permission.

“It’s clear that many of these companies continue to build corporate empires off of a basic premise — making massive profit always trumps protecting the public and innovation is only possible by cutting corners,” Peskin said.

In his opening remarks, Peskin also touched on how this is not emergency legislation, despite what Bird wanted some people to think. He also noted how he and other supervisors have received numerous complaints from the public about the recent proliferation of scooters.

Many of those comments were vocalized today. In the public comment portion, residents expressed concerns of these scooters taking up too much space on sidewalks, and becoming hazards to seniors and people with disabilities. On a couple of occasions, citizens also spoke to concerns of arrogance and elitism that e-scooters represent.

On the other side, members from a local community group in the Bayview neighborhood expressed how some of the companies, like Lime, are proactively working with their communities and even hiring community members to work for them.

Representatives from Lime, Spin and Bird also chimed in. LimeBike said its looks forward to “a fair and transparent process that balances the real and serious concerns of the public.” Spin similarly said it has no intention of doing anything that conflicts with any local or state laws. Bird, on the other hand, went a step further and asked for a window to continue operating while the city figures out its permitting process.

The proposed legislation looks to establish a violation for electric scooters left on sidewalks that do not have a proper permit from the SFMTA.

“With a permit, we would require the scooter share companies to educate their users on how to ride and park responsibly and hold the companies accountable to produce good behavior from their users,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told TechCrunch.

Here’s a key gist from the ordinance:

The proliferation of [Powered] Scooter Share Programs, which include motorized scooters that can be secured without being locked to a fixed object, has the potential to cause obstructions of public right-of-ways and, in the absence of sufficient education as to existing laws, cause a myriad of other safety hazards for both users of [Powered] Scooters as well as members of the public more generally. The Administrative Code defines a “public nuisance” as any “thing or condition, including but not limited to violations of the Municipal Code or State law, that threatens injury or damage to the health, safety, welfare, or property of members of the public, that obstructs the free use of property of others or of the public right-of-way or commons, or otherwise interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property

Following the public comment portion, the committee members had some specific questions for Bird and Spin. Supervisor Kim noted she’s seen several scooters that are tipped over.

“Within the first week, I had seen several that had been pushed over,” Kim said, adding that she’s concerned about safety and the long-term viability of the programs.

In response, Bird Director of Government Affairs Carl Hanson said the company can usually get someone out there within two hours, but Supervisor Kim said that’s too long. In response to a question about proper scooter parking, Hanson said Bird now requires users to take a picture at the end of the ride to prove the scooter is parked properly.

While the SFMTA aims to open up its permitting process early next month, Supervisor Kim said she doesn’t see this working unless docking is in place.

“I don’t think we can permit this until we figure out how to dock them,” Supervisor Kim said.

The SFMTA, however, said the onus is on the companies to ensure proper docking and that it’s willing to work with each company around that process.

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