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Rejected scooter company files appeal, calls SF permit process ‘secret’ and ‘unlawful’

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Two women ride Lime dockless electric scooters along the sidewalk on Market Street in April 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

An e-scooter company rejected from San Francisco’s shared scooter pilot program has filed an appeal, alleging The City’s application criteria were developed “without public input” and “impermissibly vague,” demonstrating a publicly stated “bias” towards particular scooter companies.

Lime on Wednesday announced its appeal of the e-scooter pilot program, which on Aug. 30 awarded two companies, Scoot and Skip, permits to operate scooters. The appeal was peppered with allegations scorching the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the entire permit program.

This is the first appeal to be filed, SFMTA confirmed, though ten companies that applied were ultimately rejected from the program.

Lime was also among the first companies to launch e-scooters in San Francisco before an official permit program was formed.

When the rentable, smartphone-app enabled motorized scooters first rolled into San Francisco in March, they were met with both praise and derision. Transit wonks saw the zippy e-scooters as a viable way to take cars off the road, while some residents felt they were more likely to replace walking and transit, and decried riders for illegally whizzing down sidewalks and parking scooters where people could easily trip over them.

The SFMTA ultimately awarded two pilot permits, to Scoot and Skip, praising the companies for their robust outreach to neighborhoods to mitigate conflict, and for their commitment to safety and the rules of the road. Those scooters are expected to hit the road in October.

Meanwhile, ten other companies that applied for permits were left out in the cold, including Lime, Bird, Spin, ofo, Lyft, Hopr, Uscooter, JUMP (which was recently bought by Uber), Ridecell and Razor.

SMFTA spokesperson Paul Rose disputed Lime’s accusations.

“After a thorough, fair and transparent review process, we are confident we selected the strongest applicants to participate in the one-year scooter pilot,” he wrote, in a statement. “Scoot and Skip demonstrated the highest level of commitment to our city’s values of prioritizing public safety, promoting equity and ensuring accountability.”

Public documents show Lime netted “poor” ratings in six out of twelve evaluation categories developed for the scooter pilot application process, including in the safety and “experience and qualifications” categories. Lime was rated “fair” in five out of twelve evaluation metrics, and only its “service reliability” category was rated as “strong.”

In its appeal Wednesday, Lime alleged the permit process was vague, changed with little notice at various parts of the process and was conducted with bias towards other companies.

“Applicants were not given notice of the evaluation criteria prior to the application deadline, which were developed without public input and are impermissibly vague, thus making it impossible to carry out a fair and transparent competitive process,” Lime wrote in its appeal.

Lime also alleged SFMTA applied new multi-part criteria for scooter companies “unknown to any applicant and unrelated to either the original questions posed by the application or the legal requirements set forth in (city transportation code).”

The scooter company also alleged SFMTA demonstrated bias in awarding the permit to Skip. For example, Lime wrote in its appeal, scooter company Skip received a “fair” rating in the safety category for the permit evaluation whereas Lime received a “poor” rating, despite the two companies having similar helmet giveaway programs.

The SFMTA provided some permit evaluation documents the day the permits were awarded.

Lime’s permit denial noted that Lime’s application did not provide details about when penalties for scofflaw behavior would be levied, that its low-income access program lacked details about accessing the program, that Lime should have included a drivers license requirement but did not, and that Lime’s application “met only baseline strategies to promote and distribute helmets” which were proposed by most or all other applicants.

“Based on the SFMTA’s observations,” the SFMTA wrote to Lime, “these baseline strategies taken alone did not result in high levels of helmet use.”

The appeal will be heard by SFMTA hearing officers no more than 45 days from the date it was filed to determine the credibility of Lime’s claims. The hearing will be open to the public.

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