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Proposed e-scooter regulations leave open the option of a ban

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Lime is developing an in-app feature to require photos of properly parked electric scooters from its riders.(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco may ban electric scooter rentals citywide if the companies don’t curb scofflaw riders.

That’s the threat hanging over e-scooter rental companies Lime, Spin, Bird and others in The City’s pilot program for the new vehicles, which could be approved as early as May 1, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

Tom Maguire, director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s sustainable streets division, said he hopes e-scooter companies will operate in harmony with The City.

“We know San Francisco is a hotbed of transportation innovation,” he said. “We don’t want to stifle innovation, but we want to make it safer and more equitable.”

Though the SFMTA Board of Directors is not expected to vote on the new e-scooter regulations until next week, the early outline of the proposed new regulations for the industry was publicly posted by the SFMTA’s little-seen Engineering, Maintenance and Safety Committee.

The outline reveals, perhaps surprisingly, that those permits will only be granted as part of a “pilot program.”

When asked if making the permit structure a pilot means e-scooters could be banned in San Francisco, Maguire said, “We may learn it’s possible to make [the e-scooter rental industry] work in San Francisco. We may learn there’s no way to make it work.

“I think we’re open to both possibilities,” he added.

With the e-scooter debate raging on, the Board of Supervisors passed legislation on Tuesday requring scooter companies to adhere to SFMTA regulations and obtain permits to operate. The board also unanimously approved a resolution for San Francisco to officially oppose Assembly Bill 2989, authored by Assemblymember Heath Flora, R-Stanislaus. That bill, if approved, would offer a stricter definition of e-scooters. It would also allow them to operate at 20 mph, — they are now limited to 15 mph — to operate on sidewalks and would require minors to wear helmets while riding.

Besides defining e-scooter permits as a pilot program, those regulations also will limit companies to operating 500 e-scooters per permit and will only allow up to five permits to be granted. Those companies will also be required to develop a low-income plan for riders, much like Ford GoBike’s “Bikeshare for All” program that offers reduced prices for low-income cyclists.

Permit rules also require the e-scooter companies to share trip data, which includes where riders start and end their rides, Maguire said. The companies will also be required to educate their riders on the law, which requires scooters with motors to operate in bike lanes or the extreme side of a street, not on sidewalks, and for riders to wear helmets.

“We’re not going to prescribe the specific way they educate their users,” Maguire said, but “if they consistently fail to keep riders off the sidewalk, or have helmets on their riders, that will be grounds for us to suspend or revoke their permits.”

The pilot program is expected to last two years, but Maguire said the SFMTA may end the pilot sooner if it determines it has learned enough about e-scooter operations. Companies will face $100 penalties for every scooter parked in the public right of way, such as in the middle of a sidewalk, without a permit.

“The way we evaluate a pilot is always a mix of our own observations in the field, complaints, and citations, and objective quantitative data,” Maguire said.

Meanwhile, e-scooter companies are trying to clean up their act. Posters throughout San Francisco sporting Spin’s logo urge safe behavior from scooter riders. Lime is developing an in-app feature to require photos from its riders to demonstrate they’ve parked their scooters properly and is providing branded helmets from its headquarters in The City.

“We recognize that we can’t fix every concern overnight, but as a Bay Area company, we want to be lasting partners with the City and County of San Francisco,” Lime said in response to the Board of Supervisor’s legislation last week.”

Though e-scooter companies have revved up efforts to curb sidewalk-riding users, and riders parking scooters in the middle of sidewalks, San Francisco Public Works is still impounding dozens of scooters.

The agency has impounded 335 scooters since the City Attorney’s Office first sent a cease-and-desist notice against illegal scooter activities, said public works spokesperson Rachel Gordon.

The new e-scooter regulations are expected to go before the SFMTA Board of Directors for approval on May 1.

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