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City’s e-scooter permit program draws 12 applicants including Razor, Lyft and Uber

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A dozen companies applied for The City’s e-scooter permit program by Thursday’s deadline. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Interest is booming in The City’s e-scooter permit program, applications to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency reveal.

A grand total of twelve companies — including scooter manufacturer Razor and ride-hail giants Uber and Lyft — have applied for The City’s e-scooter pilot program.

That’s four times the number of companies that were on the road in San Francisco before city officials temporarily banned them from city streets on June 4. Spin, Lime and Bird collectively deployed thousands of the controversial two-wheeled vehicles, according to estimates from the SFMTA.

The SFMTA crafted a pilot program for the scooters that would grant permits to only five companies and allow only 1,250 rentable e-scooters on the road while the agency evaluates scooter deployment for a year. That number of scooters may grow to 2,500 at the discretion of the SFMTA.

The deadline to apply for that permit passed Thursday at 5 p.m., and the applications flooded in from companies including Bird, Spin, Lime, ofo, Scoot, Skip (also known as Waybots), Lyft, Hopr (also known as Cyclehop), USScooter, Jump (which was recently bought by Uber), Ridecell and the original creator of the scooter craze, Razor.

Razor also sells electric scooters ranging from $200-400, though their interest in renting them in San Francisco hasn’t previously been highly publicized. Lyft’s interest in scooter-rentals was first reported last month after lobbyist emails were unearthed by news outlet The Information.

The scooters drew criticism from those who saw them as a threat to pedestrians on city sidewalks, and advocacy group Walk San Francisco started a public campaign called #scootersbehavingbadly to call for riders to stick to the streets, as required by law.

Cathy DeLuca, policy and program manager with Walk SF, said the e-scooter company boom may have positive benefits.

Firstly, she said “The City’s process limits the number of companies. We’re not going to see a boom, we’re going to see a regulated, measured program.”

And fierce competition from even more scooter companies may drive them to comply with safety concerns, DeLuca said, in a bid to win SFMTA permit approval.

Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of public policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said he doesn’t think all of these e-scooter companies will survive the competition, citing the defunct rivals of Uber and Lyft as historical example.

“Things are changing, and I think you’re not going to have dozens of scooters companies just like we didn’t end up with dozens of rideshare companies,” Lazarus said. “Remember there were other ones around that don’t exist anymore. It’ll shake down.”

DeLuca said one thing is certain: San Francisco would benefit from keeping the SFMTA rules that limit the number of scooters on the road, even once the pilot program is complete, based on the recent e-scooters found in trash cans, in local bodies of water, and the north of 1,800 complaints recieved by SFMTA.

“I do get the sense there’s a thirst for a limit,” DeLuca said.

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