On Scooter Wars in San Francisco

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  • The recent introduction of rentable electric scooter services by start-ups Bird, Shine and Lime have brought up concerns about scooters blocking sidewalks, riders driving in and around pedestrians and cars, congestion in bike lanes and more.
  • Last week,  addressing these concerns, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) proposed a “Pilot Scooter Share Program Permit” and their presentation said, 1) powered scooters have the potential to provide sustainable and convenient alternatives to driving, 2) [they] impede pedestrian travel and risk of pedestrian injury and 3) existing regulations govern usage - sidewalk riding is prohibited, helmet are required, scooters may not obstruct sidewalks. 
  • Aaron Peskin, a San Francisco city supervisor leading the efforts for more oversight said "I am getting all kinds of complaints, They range from people having to dodge them as they go 15 miles an hour down the sidewalks illegally to people tripping over them to businesses upset that they're [blocking storefronts]” and “While "the MO of tech has been disrupt," says Peskin, "the corporate arrogance that has come with these venture capital funded tech firms is rather extraordinary."
  • San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said, "San Franciscans' safety and public resources are not commodities for these companies to monetize …  San Francisco has had enough of the mantra 'move fast and break things.'”
  • SFMTA senior transportation planner Miriam Sorell said, “They’re small, but they do take up space … For those in a wheelchair or with a vision impairment, they could pose a hazard … We want to make sure people operate them safely.”
  • Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden (and a former executive at Uber) said, “Not everyone can afford their own electric scooter … We shouldn’t discriminate against people that are renting versus owning” and “Go back to the early 1900s, and people would have a similar reaction to cars because they were used to horses."
  • Lime head of government relations Scott Kubly said, “We want people to follow the rules, we want to communicate what the rules of the road are, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the user to make sure they’re following the rules, In the same way, if you’re Ford, you want people to drive their vehicles the right way, but when they’re out on the street driving their vehicles, you can’t control how people drive.”
  • Sam Altman, president of startup incubator Y Combinator said “Why is it that we can have emergency action on scooters, but we have [drug] needles on the sidewalk?” and “The existing civic institutions that are supposed to make life better and more affordable and easier in the city have not done a good job.”
  • Note: The Bird scooter is based on the Mi Electric Scooter made by Xiaomi in China (which also owns Segway).  Its maximum speed is 15.5 MPH, maximum load at 220 pounds, and has a retail price of about $500.

OUR TAKE

  • The scooters seem like a fun way to get around town, unfortunately, some riders are reckless and many of the issues cited in the press are apparent to people living or visiting San Francisco. Both the city and the service providers will need to adapt and (unfortunately), it is only a matter of time before injuries occur and lawsuits are filed.
  • Given that these start-ups plan introducing their services to other cities, community staff in other locations should anticipate the introduction of these services and plan accordingly.  
  • Regarding Sam Altman’s views – while his comments about drugs and other social issues have merit, perhaps he can find some solutions from his pool of start-up talent.
FPM Team