San Francisco closes in on electric scooter rules

San Francisco officials approved legislation on Tuesday to regulate the dockless electric scooters that began appearing on city streets last month during the St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the legislation that would require companies to apply for a permit with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in order to operate in The City.

Additionally, the legislation will allow the Department of Public Works to pick up any unpermitted electric scooters off the streets.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who introduced the legislation in March, said he had heard of electric scooters being a problem in Santa Monica and wanted The City to begin working on legislation before the arrival of the scooters:

“I thought for the first time we would actually get ahead of the curb.”

But three companies — first LimeBike, then Bird and Spin — went ahead and launched their scooters, despite not having permission from The City and while acknowledging they knew about the pending legislation.

The devices could potentially be useful for some as a last-mile mode option, though Peskin said the devices are not for the sidewalks:

“These scooters are certainly something that can help in some instances for some users in San Francisco’s complex world of transportation challenges, but that does not mean that we are going to sacrifice the sacred spaces that are our sidewalks, which are for pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, parents with strollers.”

Peskin added:

“Those are not the places where these devices moving at 15 miles per hour should be used.”

State law prohibits the scooters from being used on the sidewalks and requires people who use the devices to wear a helmet.

A bill in the state legislature proposes to change the helmet requirement to require only minors to wear one and would define a stand up electric scooter as a device that does not exceed 20 miles per hour instead of 15 miles per hour. Peskin opposes the bill.

Hundreds of complaints about safety concerns and the scooters blocking the pedestrian pathway are rolling into The City.

Public Works began picking up the scooters last Friday based on the complaints the department received.

Photo evidence from City Attorney Dennis Herrera shows many of the devices being left in the middle of a sidewalk, tipped over on the sidewalk and people not wearing helmets while using the devices.

Herrera sent a cease and desist order to all three companies to stop the “unlawful conduct.”

Herrera is asking the companies to explain how they plan to address the safety concerns outlined his letter by April 30.

The SFMTA Board of Directors plan to take up the electric scooter permit program at its next board meeting on May 1.

Ed Reiskin, SFMTA director of transportation, said a permit program will be in place by late May.

Kenneth Baer, a spokesperson for Bird, said:

“We are taking the City Attorney’s concerns and recommendations for improving Bird in San Francisco very seriously.”

Additionally, Baer said the company began a pilot program on Tuesday for all riders to take a photo of where they park their Bird at the end of their ride:

“This will help Bird take action to ensure frequent violators of Bird’s parking rules are suspended or deactivated.”