Scooter lying on sidewalk

A New San Francisco E-scooter Invasion

Scooter lovers, get ready to ride! Swarms of app-based e-scooters will invade San Fran streets starting October 15th and tens of thousands could invade if the city allows the maximum permits. With just 1,450 scooters on the road now a sudden growth spurt up to 27,500 could put hordes of people on the move and multi-colored jumbles of parked scooters all over town.

While the number will probably be much lower, lots of scooters hitting the road will certainly fuel the debate. Online commentary remains lively with supporters for restraint and safety facing off against advocates of using scooters to reduce car traffic.

Safety will be a definite concern. No matter the final number, city drivers will certainly have to contend with more motorized pedestrians zipping around town. 

The biggest issue may be scooter riders being unsafe in car lanes, but other no-no’s to watch out for this fall are riders on sidewalks and scooters improperly parked. Riders without helmets can also get tickets from police. Scooters left helter-skelter on sidewalks is a definite offense.

Park-it-anywhere scooters were outlawed in mid-2018 amid complaints, in part because many scooters were poorly parked on sidewalks. The year-long pilot program to bring them back proved successful, though, so the city is ready to give scooters another chance. To address complaints, city planners have made holding riders accountable for mistakes a central theme.

Regulations about training users, providing helmets and making sure that parked scooters aren’t in the way are keys to the new plan. Scooters will have to be locked down to “a fixed physical object” like a bike rack, so new scooters must have a built-in lock capable of working that way.

Safety advocates hoping to keep scooter numbers low may have an uphill argument, since of more than 38 million e-scooter rides last year only 1,500 accidents were reported, better than a 99.99% success rate. 

Companies applying for the new permits have promised strong compliance with new regulations through free helmet outreach and education programs. In particular, scooter companies have promised to enforce proper parking, though how they’ll do so remains unclear. 

Anyone can report an infraction by dialing 311. The city will also post company contact numbers and emails to report problems on the SFMTA’s projects web page. (Pilot program companies Scoot and Skip are listed there now.)

Applications were due by August 21st and the SFMTA promised to announce approvals sometime in September. The transit authority has given no real indication of how many permits will be issued, saying only that they anticipate allowing several vendors to take part.

According to the SFMTA site the 2019 Permit Program is looking for the “best of the crop”. As in the 2018 pilot program they’ll only award permits to the companies who provide the best indications of success, including track records in other cities. That could be a gotcha for Lyft as they’ve recently pulled e-bikes in major markets because of fires.

Scoot and Skip got the only two permits issued in the pilot program because the transit authority found that other applications fell short. Meeting baseline requirements wasn’t enough and those two companies “demonstrated the highest commitment”. Hopefully, competition for permits in the new program will again leave San Franciscans with the best scooter programs. 

The new 2019 licenses will run for a year and will allow between 1,000 and 2,500 scooters for each approved company. Even if big numbers are allowed the initial crop of new scooters may not be huge since companies may start small and ramp up. Companies will have three months, for instance, to introduce scooters with adaptive features for handicapped riders.

Service to “communities of concern” was an issue in the pilot program and the city aims to provide service city-wide in the new program. After the mid-’18 ban only two companies—Scoot and Skip—got the nod from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. The two companies were allowed hundreds of scooters under the condition that they serve “communities of concern”, and according to city records the companies did so successfully.

In spite of the success, two areas—the Tenderloin and Chinatown—were off-limits for drop-offs in the Scoot program. The company is on record claiming they didn’t have enough scooters to cover all areas but they have promised that will change when there are more scooters on the road.

All told, residents and visitors to the City by the Bay are going to have easy access to scooters in just a few weeks. City dwellers can anticipate seeing fun-lovers in search of a ride carrying helmets as part of their daily outings this fall.

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