Tide turning against wave of dockless electric scooters

San Francisco is getting close to regulating the dockless electric scooters that have flooded city sidewalks since mid-March.

The Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee voted 3-0 on Monday to advance proposed legislation that would regulate the scooters to the full board for a vote on Tuesday.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the lead sponsor of the proposed legislation, would require scooter companies to submit an application with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for a permit in order to operate in The City.

The proposed legislation would be similar to one that Peskin authored on stationless bikes, which was passed by the board last year.

City officials said complaints have been rolling in since companies launched the scooters. Many complaints have been about scooters blocking the right-of-way on sidewalks and becoming a potential hazard of seniors and the disabled community.

Bob Planthold, a member of Senior and Disability Action, said he saw a photo of a scooter blocking the disabled door mechanism at The Metreon:

“There are safety hazards especially for seniors with disabilities.”

While there was some support for the scooters during public comment, many echoed the same sentiments of Planthold on pedestrian safety.

Mayor Mark Farrell told SFBay he supports companies coming up with innovative ways to get people of their cars, but  that companies can not just do as they please in The City:

“We cannot as a city allow companies, whether be it scooter companies or bicycle companies that we talked about last year, just willy-nilly to let their scooters or bikes end up on our sidewalks.”

Farrell said he saw a number of randomly placed scooters on Monday morning on his way to City Hall, which is what some of public is also seeing as well on the city streets.

Representatives from three of the companies, LimeBike, Spin and Bird, all of whom launched scooters in The City, spoke to supervisors during the committee hearing about concerns on safety.

Companies like Bird see the scooters as helping The City get to its goal of having 80 percent of trips made by sustainable modes of transportation by 2030, said Carl Hanson, director of government affairs for Bird.

Hanson said the company empathizes with the community on the safety concerns brought up at the hearing and supports Peskin’s legislation:

“We do not want to see riders riding dangerously on sidewalks or riding at sidewalks at all, parking on sidewalks in ways that present a hazard.”

A new feature being added to the Bird mobile app is for users to take a photo of how they parked the scooter on the sidewalk, said Hanson.

Supervisor Jane Kim said she had concerns about scooters she had seen tipped over in the middle of sidewalk.

Kim wanted to know if there could be a designated place to dock the scooters.

Jamie Parks with the SFMTA’s Livable Streets Division said the companies would need to come up with solutions on the possibility of a docking area.

Parks said the permit program will most likely head to the SFMTA Board of Directors at their May 1 meeting for a vote and could have the program ready by mid-May.

Peskin also took issue with Bird releasing a press release to the media last week calling that the meeting being held on Monday was an emergency meeting to ban the scooters.

Hanson said it was “bad intel” the company had received and apologized.

In Oakland, Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan proposed Monday that the city adopt regulations to wrangle local dockless scooter and bicycle-share services.

Kaplan said the vehicles can benefit the community, but they can block wheelchairs and pedestrians, clutter sidewalks and become blight if misused.

She emphasized the importance of maintaining affordable rates, local jobs and reliable local maintenance teams to oversee the new commute option:

“We can have useful, affordable shared mobility for our community with local jobs without blocking sidewalks or encouraging chaos.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Works picked up 66 scooters last Friday off the streets that were reported in by the public, according to Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera took his own action on Monday against all three companies with a cease and desist order alleging the companies are allowing and promoting the public to use the scooters on the sidewalk, allowing them to use the scooter without a helmet and without a driver’s license.

The state law requires the operator of an electric scooter to have a driver’s license, wear a helmet, and to only use the device on a bike lane or trail.

Herrera said in the letter:

“We cannot overstate the public safety hazard that operating motorized scooters pose on City sidewalks. The scooters do not display a warning sign to riders that it is unlawful to operate them on the sidewalks.”

Public Works will continue to abate the scooters if they are blocking the public right-of-way, said Herrera.

All three companies have until April 30 to address many of the safety issues outlined in Herrera’s letter.

After the committee hearing, Hanson said he was aware of the cease and desist order but had not read it yet.


Bay City News contributed information to this report.