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San Francisco seeks time out from rental e-scooters

Companies who dropped motorized scooters on San Francisco streets back in March will now to have apply for a permit with The City in order to continue operating.

The Board of Supervisors in April approved legislation that required companies to apply for a permit with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in order to do business in The City. The law takes effect on June 4, said City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

It means companies like Spin, Bird and LimeBike, who have already launched their scooters on the streets back in mid-March, will have to remove their scooters from streets before June 4.

The SFMTA anticipates to issue permits by the end of June.

The legislation, authored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, will allow the Department of Public Works to remove any unauthorized scooters off the sidewalks when the law takes effect.

Herrera said while the scooters can provide transportation benefits, including getting people out of cars and providing a way for people to connect to public transit, the scooters have posed some safety challenges on the sidewalks:

“Powered scooters ridden on sidewalks pose a considerable danger to pedestrians and the riders.”

The City has so far received more than 1,800 complaints about the scooters since April, including scooters parked improperly on the sidewalk, said Herrera:

“That makes it particularly difficult for seniors, for parents with young children, or for people with disabilities to get around.”

Prior to the Board of Supervisors approving legislation, Herrera sent out cease-and-desist letters to Spin, Bird and LimeBike for the unlawful behavior by some of their customers.

State law requires users of the scooters to have a driver’s license, wear a helmet and to ride the scooters in a bike lane and not on the sidewalk. Companies submitted letters to Herrera at the end of April on how they planned to address those concerns

The City’s own law prohibits any objects blocking the right-of-way of pedestrians, which includes scooters. Public Works began taking the scooters in April due to the number of growing complaints through SF311.

Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru said crews have picked more than 500 scooters parked incorrectly.

Last month, the SFMTA Board of Directors approved a one-year pilot permit program called the Powered Scooter Share Program Permit, which allows only up to five permits being issued by the transit agency and limiting the total number of scooters on the streets to 1,250 during the first six months of the pilot.

If during the first six months the pilot goes well, the transit agency may increase the total to 2,500, said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin.

The permit program will require companies to provide a “robust” plan on how they will make sure people are using the scooters correctly and properly parking them.

As part of the permit program, companies must be transparent to its customers about the type of data they will collect and how the they plan to use the data and give customers a way to opt-out, said Reiskin.

Additionally, each scooter company granted a permit will have to chip in $10,000 to an endowment fund to cover any future city-related costs such property damage or costs related to storing and impounding scooters.

Reiskin said the scooters can complement with existing transportation options in The City, but need to do so safely:

“We are using this authority that has been granted to us by the Board of Supervisors with support of the mayor, to put in place a regulatory framework to make sure we can get the best of the transportation benefits for the people of San Francisco and anyone who is using these without getting some of the deterrents such as we have seen out on the streets already.”

The SFMTA board also gave Reiskin the ability to use past performance and behavior to determine which companies may or may not get a permit.

Reiskin said:

“It’s not meant to be in a punitive way. Their past performance will be a good indicator of future performance and their ability to be compliant with existing state and local laws as well as potential permit conditions.”

Companies have until June 7 at 5 p.m. to submit an application to the SFMTA.

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