- San Francisco has voted to regulate electric scooters, requiring them to apply for a permit before operating on city streets.
- The legislation was passed unanimously.
- The San Francisco MTA expects applications for permits to be ready in May.
Just weeks after a raft of electric scooters have filled the streets of San Francisco — and drawn complaints from local residents — the city has voted to regulate them.
In a unanimous vote, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to require electronic scooter startups to apply for a permit before operating in the city, giving authorities the power to impound any scooter without a permit.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority told Business Insider before the vote it will be ready to accept permit applications in May, which will be before the law is set to take effect.
“These scooters are certainly something that can help and assist some users in San Francisco’s complex world of transportation challenges, but that does not mean that we are going to sacrifice the same spaces that are options for pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, parents with strollers. Those are not the places for the devices to be used,” said San Francisco supervisor Aaron Peskin at the meeting.
Ride and park responsibly
Since the terms of the permit applications have yet to be written, it is unclear exactly what the three venture-backed companies with scooters in the city — Bird, LimeBikes, and Spin — will have to show the city before receiving a permit. But Paul Rose, a spokesman for the SFMTA, said in an email that the companies will have to “educate their users on how to ride and park responsibly, holding the companies accountable to produce good behavior from their users.”
All three high-profile startups with scooters in the city, Bird, LimeBikes, and Spin, told Business Insider they supported the regulation and expressed a willingness to “work with the city” despite the escalating tension between city officials and scooter companies in recent weeks.
The startups let people reserve a local scooter from a smartphone app, ride for a small fee, and, at the end of the journey, leave the scooter wherever to be claimed by the next rider. Unlike existing bike-sharing programs, there’s no dock, so the scooters can be left anywhere. The scooters have cropped up in other cities, too, such as Santa Monica, Austin, and Washington DC.
The companies and their proponents argue that electric scooters are an evironmentally-friendly transportation alternative that can reduce traffic. Supervisor Jeff Sheehy called the scooters an “innovation,” saying at the meeting that he’s even ridden one. But he added that regulation and more bike lanes are necessary and called the rollout of the scooters “disasterous.”
The city has received numerous complaints since the scooters first descended on San Francisco. Residents have complained of the scooters routinely blocking sidewalks and building entrances, causing people to trip, and making sidewalks less accessible for people who use wheelchairs. Residents have also reported encountering people riding the scooters, which can reach speeds of up to 15 mph, on sidewalks, which is illegal in the city.
Twitter users have even begun to keep track of scooters breaking the law in the city with the hashtag #scootersbehavingbadly.
In a completely separate action than the Board of Supervisors, the San Francisco city attorney’s office on Monday issued cease and desist orders to Bird, LimeBikes, and Spin for violating state and local laws already on the books that dictate how scooters need to be ridden and where they can be parked. The orders, for example, cite riders lying scooters in the middle of sidewalks, riding without a helmet, and riding with multiple passengers — all of which are already illegal.
In addressing concerns from the city attorney’s office, Bird and LimeBikes have begun requiring riders to take a picture of their parked scooter after a ride. That way, Bird will be able to see if people are violating parking rules, and suspend or deactivate users who frequently discard scooters in the middle of sidewalks or in front of building entrances. LimeBikes will also start distributing helmets.