Electric scooter permit plan to end sidewalk free-for-all


All is not quite forgiven for the three electric scooter companies who decided to launch their scooters in March on San Francisco streets.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors approved a 12-month pilot program that grants up to five permits to scooter operators who meet the transit agency’s requirements during the application process.

During the first six months of the pilot, the transit agency will allow a total of 1,250 scooters on the streets with the possibility of increasing the total to 2,500 scooters if the six-month report shows no problems.

Among the other permit requirements is that companies must provide user education on wearing a helmet and how to park, removing scooters illegally parked within an hour, sharing operation and maintenance plans with the SFMTA, provide a low-income cost option, and making sure the scooters are available throughout The City.

Each scooter company will have to pay a $5,000 application fee and $25,000 annual permit fee that will go towards administering the program.

Companies will also need to contribute $10,000 each to an endowment fund to cover city-related costs, such as impounding and storage of any scooters parked illegally on the streets, according to the SFMTA.

Directors approved a number of amendments to the proposal, including allowing the SFMTA director of transportation to consider past experience when issuing a permit to a scooter operator.

Vice Chair Malcolm Heinicke, who introduced the amendment, said:

“While I am willing personally to give some forgiveness and I am also not necessarily willing to reward past behavior.”

Having prior knowledge of the legislation in the works by Supervisor Aaron Peskin to regulate the scooters, LimeBike, Bird and Spin launched their scooters anyway. Peskin’s legislation was approved last month.

Director Joél Ramos supports the pilot program, but said:

“I’ll be the first one to advocate for stopping it when it comes back if we don’t get this right going forward.”

Ramos said he would like the companies to be more “sensitive” than they have been in working with communities instead of with just early adopters of the scooters.

While the companies were legally able to put their scooters on the streets for rentals, a number of complaints began rolling into The City’s 311 system of scooters blocking the right-of-way for pedestrians and those with mobility issues.

As of Thursday last week, The City had collected 372 scooters with fines totaling upwards of approximately $8,800 each for Bird and LimeBike and $7,400 for Spin, said Rachel Gordon with the Department of Public Works.

Besides parking issues, users operating the scooters on the streets has also become a nuisance for some.

Resident Nancy McNally said she was hit by scooter on Fifth and Mission streets on April 18:

“This kind of thing is going to happen again only somebody is going to get really hurt.”

All three companies submitted plans on addressing safety issues to the city attorney’s office after the office issued a cease and desist order.

John Coté, communications director of the city attorney’s office said:

“We will be reviewing the responses over the next several days. We are going through them in detail and will be having thoughtful discussions with our clients, including the SFMTA, Public Works and the Police Department, on the information these companies provided.”

Coté added:

“Our goal has always been to ensure that innovation does not come at the price of public safety. These scooters could have a role in San Francisco’s transportation picture if they’re used lawfully. That includes being parked in the right place, ridden in the right place and following all terms of the pending permit program.”

Spin CEO Derrick Ko, wrote to the city attorney’s office that the company is taking or has taken already a number of actions to educate its users about local and state law.

CORRECTION An earlier version of the story said Derrick Ko was the CEO of Bird. Ko is the CEO of Spin. SFBay regrets the error.

Ko wrote that Spin has placed stickers on its devices about the state law requirements when operating a scooter, which includes wearing a helmet, having a driver’s license to operate the device and not riding on the sidewalks.

The company’s app, which is how users are able to find and rent the scooter, also pops with display of the state laws when every time the app is used.

Users who rent out a Spin scooter will now need to have their driver’s license scanned by the company’s mobile app.

Both LimeBike and Bird have similar remedies addressing users riding on the sidewalk and not wearing helmets by having pop up messages appears on their mobile apps.

David Estrada, head of government relations for Bird, told the board he wante to “correct the record” on issue of “bad actors” during the process, and said the scooters are operating legally on city streets.

Estrada said the focus should be instead on how the scooters could potentially replace rideshare trips:

“We scale supply to about 2,000 scooters today to meet increasing demand. Compare that with estimates of 500,000 cars in The City.”

The transit agency plans to have the permit program in place by the end of May.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay and covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a San Francisco native and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Follow Jerold on Twitter @jerold_chinn. Email tips to

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