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E-scooters to return to SF streets on Oct. 15, but only in a handful of neighborhoods

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Scoot’s Jasmine Wallsmith and Javon Salone ride the company’s new Kick scooter on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 ahead of The City’s rollout of permitted scooters. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Set your calendars, scooter-fans.

Monday, October 15, rentable e-scooters will sail down San Francisco streets again.

But when they roll out, they will be available in only a small part of The City.

It’s been a full four months since the little motorized conveyances were yanked from The City’s streets, one dramatic moment among many in the saga of the much-maligned two wheelers.

Roughly a dozen companies vied to operate e-scooters on The City’s streets — from multi-billion dollar giants Uber and Lyft to the original scooter company, Razor. Ultimately the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency chose shared moped company Scoot and newcomer Skip as the two exclusive permittees in The City’s e-scooter pilot program.

Now Scoot and Skip are scheduled to deploy their motorized e-scooters Monday, the same day the SFMTA will formally award their permits.

SFMTA has limited the number of e-scooters to 1,250 for both companies for the first half of the pilot, with an option to increase the total number of e-scooters to 2,500 later on. That small number prompted Scoot to scrunch down the geographic area the vehicles are available so they would be more readily available.

The service area for Scoot, which the company announced Oct. 1, stretches from a portion of the Castro down Market Street to the waterfront, through the north of the Mission District to South of Market, down Mission Bay and the Dog Patch along Third Street to a portion of the Bayview.

But be mindful of the scooter’s geographic boundaries, Michael Keating, founder and CEO of Scoot, warned. Though they can be ridden anywhere in San Francisco, if riders park the scooters out of their designated areas, they’ll net a surcharge.

While he wouldn’t reveal the cost, “it’s enough to make you prefer to take it back,” Keating said.

Skip is still “finalizing details” with SFMTA, said Madariaga, and did not share their service area map. However, Skip’s application to the SFMTA noted it would limit its service during the pilot program to 80 percent in the northeastern part of The City and 20 percent in the southeastern portion.

Scooter lovers on the Westside, and the rest of the south side of San Francisco, are out of luck.

That future scoot desert rubbed Supervisor Ahsha Safai the wrong way, who represents the Ingleside and other southern neighborhoods. He lambasted SFMTA’s selection process to award scooter permits in a City Hall hearing on October 1, claiming SFMTA was opaque about its requirements.

“I hail from a part of San Francisco that is dramatically underserved by emerging technologies,” Safai told the SFMTA at the hearing. “There’s a lot of areas of my district that could be greatly served by this.”

Lime filed an appeal with The City of the e-scooter process in September, making similar arguments.

But some local transportation advocates are more patient with the scooter companies.

Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said a slow rollout may allow scooter companies to “figure out” the business before zooming across San Francisco. He also praised the inclusion of the Bayview in the service area, as the coalition years ago pushed for bikeshare service Ford GoBike to expand into “communities of concern” to serve economically disadvantaged transit riders.

“At the (bike coalition) we believe all San Franciscans deserve access to safe, affordable transportation options,” he said. “Our hope is in the scooter system for that same access to be mirrored.”

While geographic equity may be in the distant future, safety at least will be baked into the scooter system from the start.

Helmets will be readily available from Scoot, Keating said, by mail or at Scoot events. In a future phase of its program, the company aims to attach helmets to the scooters themselves. Blogs and other outreach by Scoot will teach users how to park their “kick” scooters, as the company calls them, out of the way of places where people will walk.

Skip will hand out helmets and host rider education events at various events between October 10 and 14. The company will also form a “community advisory board” to “maintain an ongoing dialogue with residents,” said Skip spokesperson Katherine Madariaga.

SFMTA also plans to roll out a safety campaign around the new scooters, according to SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato.

And perhaps of comfort to the hundreds of San Franciscans who complained of scofflaw scooters zig-zagging on sidewalks, Scoot is more than willing to ban customers who operate their vehicles illegally or dangerously. Keating said they did the same with their rentable mopeds, earning trust from SFMTA and The City.

“We’re very willing to police our own, so to speak,” Keating said. “We’d rather lose a customer than have someone on one of our vehicles doing something unsafe.”

joe@sfexaminer.com

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