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E-scooters finally return to San Francisco—without Bird and Lime

It’s been a wild ride, but e-scooters are officially back in San Francisco.

It only took an official ban, a drawn-out permit application process, a surprising selection announcement, three appeals (from Lime, Uber’s Jump, and Spin), and a denied temporary restraining order to get here. 

But finally scooters are back in San Francisco. Well, scooters from two companies: Scoot and Skip

Bird, Lime, and Spin may have started the whole scooter mania earlier this year, but now they aren’t allowed to operate in SF.

You may recognize Scoot from its previous electric vehicle, a red moped, that’s been in San Francisco since 2012. The mopeds are also in Barcelona.

On Monday, 625 of its newly designed “kick” e-scooters were released onto San Francisco streets. New riders could get a free red helmet if they take the scooters out on the first day. The same e-scooters are also coming to Santiago, Chile.

A modified Telepod scooter with lots of red paint, the scooters will have swappable batteries that company employees can swap out, just like with Scoot’s mopeds. 

This will make the e-scooters available 24-7, a boon for commuters with non-traditional working hours. They’re available through the same app used to rent the motor bikes.

Scoot CEO Michael Keating said the next version of the scooters will have locks on them, so they can be locked to sign posts and bike racks, instead of dumped all over city sidewalks. Scoot might also add a box for helmets — again, like its mopeds. “We’re going to learn a lot” during the year-long pilot program in San Francisco, he said.

The selection process drew plenty of criticism from the nearly 2-year-old scooter company Lime, which set up company headquarters in San Francisco and was not happy when it wasn’t picked for the city’s pilot program.

Skip previously launched in Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon, while Bird and Lime — both rejected — already operate in around 100 cities each.

On the morning of its first day in San Francisco, Skip CEO and co-founder Sanjay Dastoor was at company headquarters in San Francisco making sure everything was going smoothly on the road, with the app, with Skip Scouts (company ambassadors handing out free helmets and riding tips for the launch), and Rangers (the company’s network of independent contractors who charge the scooters).

Features like the scooters’ tip-over detection system is something that made the young company attractive to city officials. A flexible lock is coming to the next version of the battery-powered scooters.

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Dastoor has some experience with vehicle engineering as co-founder of electric longboard company Boosted.

The scooters themselves are a bit different from what San Francisco riders experienced earlier this year. The scooters have a wider floorboard and pretty robust suspension system making for a stable-feeling ride.

“We wanted to build something for the bike lane,” Dastoor said, acknowledging a common complaint from non-riders that the e-scooters often take over sidewalks.

“If we’re not serving the entire city we’re not doing our jobs,” he said.

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Scooting while drunk is a dangerous, lame way to get a DUI

Yes, you can get busted for scooting while drunk. 

With scooters swooping into more and more cities, it’s no surprise that people are behaving badly on the electric devices. E-scooter rental company Bird celebrated its first anniversary earlier this month with 2.1 million riders in 100 cities. That’s 10 million rides.  

But not all those rides have gone smoothly. Just this week Los Angeles had its first DUI case involving an e-scooter. The Bird scooter driver was three times over the legal limit when he crashed into a 64-year-old pedestrian, who fell to the ground, scraping their knees. Twenty-eight-year-old Nicholas Kauffroath rode off without helping the pedestrian.

He was convicted and placed on probation, ordered to pay $550, placed in a three-month DUI alcohol program and ordered to pay the victim and never again ride a motorized scooter after consuming any alcohol.

“Drinking while operating a vehicle, a bike—or a scooter—is not only illegal, but can lead to serious injury or worse,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement.

Thom Rickert is an emerging risk specialist at Trident Public Risk Solutions in Dallas and sees e-scooters as a new technology that can be incredibly useful for commuting and getting around or it can become a new platform to abuse.

“Someone will always find a way to use it inappropriately,” he said in a phone call Friday. 

The DUI case and others like it are some of the first safety issues rising to the top of e-scooter company’s priority list. Scooter companies are feeling the pressure to assure it’s safe to ride and be around their battery-powered vehicles.

“If the major players see they are losing market share because other companies are offering innovative safety ideas,” they’ll prioritize safety, Rickert said. “Safety is that area where that evolution is occurring.”

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Earlier this month Bird flaunted its new Global Safety Advisory Board to show its “commitment to safety” with David Strickland, former head of the NHTSA, serving as a director. He recently wrote about how scooters can be safer. He called for “thoughtful, safety-focused changes to the rules and design of our transportation system to make our streets safer for all on the road—both inside and outside a car.”

Last week, California’s governor signed into law an optional helmet requirement for adults riding motorized scooters. It goes into effect at the start of the new year. The new law shows how safety often gets in the way of convenience — and how convenience often wins.

The San Francisco permit-approved scooter company Skip claims its emphasis on safety is what makes it an attractive choice for cities and why it was able to beat out established scooter companies like Bird and Lime. Bird was a big lobbying force behind the new helmet law in California.

Lime and Spin, along with Uber’s Jump last week appealed San Francisco’s scooter permit program after all were denied permits. The companies don’t feel they were fairly evaluated, especially in how they promote safe riding practices. In a statement last week, Brian No, Spin’s head of public policy, said, “Spin remains committed to working cooperatively with (San Francisco’s transit agency) and we are hopeful that we can expand safe micromobility options for residents of our hometown.”

But no matter how many free helmets these companies give out or animated videos they make reminding riders to stay off the sidewalks, unsafe scooter riding keeps happening. 

E-scooters arrived in St. Louis in July. Two cases involving Lime scooters have been reported to police. In incident reports, a scooter rider hit a car pulling out of a parking lot. In another crash, a pedestrian was struck to the ground, face first, when a Lime scooter (riding illegally on the sidewalk) hit them.

A scooter and car collided.

A scooter and car collided.

Image: St. Louis Police Department

A scooter on the sidewalk hit a pedestrian walking.

A scooter on the sidewalk hit a pedestrian walking.

Image: ST. LOUIS POLICE DEPARTMENT

In Portland, Oregon, an e-scooter pilot program kicked off at the end of July. Earlier this month, 13 reports of scooter-involved crashes have come in since then. The program reported it’s covered more than 200,000 e-scooter trips, which translates to about 300,000 miles.

San Francisco hasn’t been tracking scooter-involved incidents, but will once its scooter program kicks off in October.

Safety keeps coming up no matter where the scooters operate. And the companies rebut the concerns with safety promises. But this is just the start of those SUIs.

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Bird hits 10 million scooter rides

Bird just announced 10 million scooter rides since launching about one year ago. If this story sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because Bird competitor Lime earlier today announced it surpassed 11.5 million rides across its shared bikes and scooters.

Bird, which launched last September in Santa Monica, Calif., currently operates in 100 cities and has over two million unique riders, Bird founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden told TechCrunch. But Bird’s first year of operations has been full of ups and downs.

Many of the downs have been around regulatory issues. Bird faced, and overcame them, in Santa Monica but failed in San Francisco.

“I think anytime you’re doing something new that the cities haven’t contemplated before, there always seems to be gray area on where you fit in in the regulatory environment,” VanderZanden said. “Cities hadn’t thought about electric scooters and electric scooter sharing. We collaborated very closely with the cities we’re in now.”

Although San Francisco did not grant an operating permit to Bird — the city gave them to Scoot and Skip — VanderZanden stressed that “San Francisco is one city. We’re in 100 cities.”

He also said Bird is not looking to appeal the decision in San Francisco. Lime, however, is in engaging in the appeals process.

As Bird enters its second year of operations, the name of the game is to double down on its efforts with cities and building out its government tech platform. Bird is also looking into manufacturing its own scooters to provide more durability to its customers and differentiate itself from other scooters on the market.

“We’ve been investing heavily in that area,” VanderZanden said. “You’ll start to see new vehicles coming from us soon.”

He added, “we want to keep building vehicles that are more ruggedized but also vehicles that have new features for the riders as well.”

And Bird definitely has the funds to do that. To date, Bird has raised $415 million in funding for shared electric scooters.

Lime is pissed at San Francisco for denying it an e-scooter permit, claims ‘unlawful bias’

Lime is waging a war against the San Francisco Municipal Transporation Agency (SFMTA), claiming that the organization acted with “unlawful bias” and “sought to punish Lime” when it chose not to award the e-scooter and dockless bike startup a permit to operate in San Francisco last month.

Lime has sent an appeal to the SFMTA, requesting an “unbiased hearing officer” reevaluate its application to participate in the city’s 12-month pilot program for e-scooter providers.

San Francisco’s permit process came as a result of Lime and its competitors, Bird and Spin, deploying their scooters without permission in the city this March. As part of a new city law, which went into effect in June, scooter startups are not able to operate in San Francisco without a permit.

Lyft, Skip, Spin, Lime, Scoot, ofo, Razor, CycleHop, USSCooter and Ridecell all applied for said permit in June; the SFTMA only awarded permits to Scoot and Skip.

Lime thinks the selection process was unfair and that because it deployed scooters in the city without asking permission — the Uber model of expansion — SFMTA intentionally rejected its application despite its qualifications.

“The SFMTA ignored the fact that Scoot’s price is twice that of other applicants, including Lime, and that Scoot declined to offer any discounted cash payment option to low-income users, as required by law,” Lime wrote in a statement today. “SFMTA inexplicably avoided inclusion of these factors as evaluation criteria and instead deemed Scoot “satisfactory” because they ‘agreed to comply.’”

When Lime learned of its rejection on Aug. 30, CEO Toby Sun said he was disappointed and planned to appeal the decision.

San Franciscans deserve an equitable and transparent process when it comes to transportation and mobility. Instead, the SFMTA has selected inexperienced scooter operators that plan to learn on the job, at the expense of the public good … The SFMTA’s handling of the dockless bike and scooter share programs has lacked transparency from the beginning. We call on the Mayor’s Office and Board of Supervisors to hold the SFMTA accountable for a flawed permitting process. As a San Francisco-based company, this is where we live and work. We want to serve this community.”

Though Lime wasn’t able to successfully sway San Francisco authorities, it was given permission to operate in Santa Monica last month alongside Bird, Lyft and JUMP Bikes.

E-scooters are expected to return to the streets of San Francisco on Oct. 15.

San Francisco and Santa Monica finally decide which e-scooter companies can roll through

Bring on the scooters.

After months of scooter-less streets in San Francisco, city transportation officials finally broke their silence Thursday to announce which electric scooter companies would be allowed to rent out the battery-powered vehicles.

Of the 12 companies that applied for a year-long pilot program in San Francisco, only two were selected: Skip and Scoot. The two companies are allotted 625 scooters each available to riders starting Oct. 15. 

The final decision came as a bit of a surprise to some companies, seeing as the city originally said it could award up to five companies permits back in June. It comes off as a retaliatory move for Bird and Lime, scooter companies that came into the city early without collaborating with officials. Uber and Lyft were also vying for a spot in their hometown’s scooter program, but may have paid the price for its past transgressions when ride-hailing apps arrived in the city unannounced years ago.

Skip founder and CEO Sanjay Dastoor said in a phone call Thursday that his San Francisco-based company was likely chosen for its collaboration and communication with officials. “We’ve been focused on the very beginning with working with cities,” he said, adding that Skip’s approach has made their scooters’ arrival easier to handle. “You haven’t heard a lot of news about D.C. having scooter armageddon.” Currently, Skip’s scooters are only present in Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon.

Scoot — known for its electric mopeds that already operate in San Francisco — still had a section on its website Thursday about “staying tuned” for what they call “kick scooters'” arrival in the Golden Gate City. CEO Michael Keating said in a statement Thursday, “We are happy to offer San Franciscans another fast, fun, affordable way to get around, and we are honored by the City’s trust in us to manage this new mode of transportation.”

Scoot won a coveted permit to oeprate e-scooters in San Francisco.

Scoot won a coveted permit to oeprate e-scooters in San Francisco.

Rejected scooter company Bird — which had been in San Francisco from March through June, when the city cracked down against it and competitors Lime and Spin — said in a statement the company was “disappointed with today’s decision,” but plans to continue working with city officials and others, “in hopes of bringing Bird back to the City by the Bay.”

Lime took the permit denial as an affront to the locally-based company and San Francisco riders alike, who it says now won’t have a “seamless” travel experience. Toby Sun, Lime CEO and co-founder, said in an email statement that Lime plans to appeal the decision.

“San Franciscans deserve an equitable and transparent process when it comes to transportation and mobility. Instead, the SFMTA has selected inexperienced scooter operators that plan to learn on the job, at the expense of the public good,” Sun said.

Sun called out the San Francisco transportation agency for lacking transparency and running a “flawed permitting process.”

Santa Monica has a different idea

It was a different story in Santa Monica, however, where four companies got the green light to operate scooters in what’s become known as scooter ground zero.

It was uncertain if the hometown company Bird, recently valued at $2 billion, would make it through the selection process there, but on Thursday the city announced that Bird, Lime, Uber Jump, and Lyft would each be allowed to rent a 750 scooters each, for a total of 2,000 e-scooters.

Additionally, the city green-lit Jump and Lyft to roll out a fleet of 500 e-bikes each.

“The city’s decision to collaborate with Lyft deepens a partnership that will reduce vehicle congestion, increase public transportation trips and provide equitable transportation solutions to all residents of Santa Monica,” Caroline Samponaro, Lyft’s head of bike and scooter policy, said in an email statement.

In a separate statement, Travis VanderZanden, CEO of Bird, expressed his company’s willingness to collaborate with city officials: “We have a shared mission of reducing congestion and emissions, and look forward to continuing partnering with the City and to serve our community.”

A Lime spokesperson said, “Lime is thrilled and honored” to be included in the pilot and that the company is “grateful for Santa Monica’s transparent process and collaborative approach.”

The irony of the Santa Monica grouping is not lost to those following this story: Uber and Lyft once plowed their way into cities with their ride-hailing apps without asking for permission. Now, both companies seem to have learned lessons and are complying with city permitting departments by applying for access with their scooter projects.

Bird and Lime put up a heavy lobbying game in Santa Monica, and Bird went so far as to set up a government platform to provide tools for city officials to monitor scooter data, enforce geo-fencing limits for no-ride and no-parking zones, and provide feedback on rider education systems, and its efforts seem to have paid off.

Santa Monica’s “Shared Mobility Pilot Program” is set to kick off on Sept. 17 and will add to its already established Breeze bike share program.

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