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Scooter share firms roll out service in SF ahead of city efforts at regulation

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Two men ride Bird dockless rental electric scooters on Market Street. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Two companies launched app-based motorized scooter rentals in San Francisco this month even as city officials scrambled to craft regulations to manage the services.

Those companies, Bird and Limebike, tout their scooters as a replacement for car trips, in an effort to help The City go green. But officials are publicly asking them to hold off, and work with The City, not against it.

Bird officially launched its mobile phone-enabled scooter rental services in San Francisco Tuesday, and Limebike made its own scooter rentals available this month.

“Bird is pleased to bring our safe, affordable, environmentally-friendly transportation solution to the people of San Francisco,” wrote a spokesperson for the company in a statement. “This is new technology, so we understand cities may still be determining the best way to regulate it and we look forward to working closely with local officials to develop a framework that works for everyone.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are both working to create a fine and permit structure for dockless, motorized scooters in San Francisco.

Peskin and the SFMTA worked last year to create regulations for dockless bicycle rentals and electric bikes, following concerns that these bikes would be left on city sidewalks and block walking paths when not in use. Photos taken in China, where dockless bike share proliferated last year, show piles and piles of unused dockless bikes.

The same fear persists for motorized scooters, which when not rented can be left on sidewalks awaiting their next customer.

Peskin’s legislative aide, Sunny Angulo, said city officials hope the motorized scooter companies will wait for regulations to be crafted before expanding throughout San Francisco.

“The hope is that they wait until we have a process in place that’s crafted with our city partners,” Angulo said. “I would hope any company that would want to work with the city partners with us, versus going off on their own and making up their own rules.”

“Shared” scooters are not explicitly covered in transportation code, however it is illegal to place a scooter or any other object in a manner that obstructs the sidewalk or other pedestrian paths of travel, said Paul Rose, an SFMTA spokesperson.

“We would urge any potential operators of new transportation services to work closely with us prior to launching a new program,” Rose told the San Francisco Examiner. “While we welcome improved mobility options, we want to carefully consider the potential benefits and impacts of any new private transportation service to ensure that it serves the public interest.”

LimeBike spokesman Joe Arellano said the company’s scooters were in San Francisco this past weekend as a popup for the Sunday Streets Fair and the previous weekend for St. Patrick’s Day events as part of an effort to introduce them to the public and train recently employed employees.

The employees came from the community and were hired with the help of nonprofits including Collective Impact, Young Community Developers and the Center for Employment Opportunities, he said.

“As a Bay Area headquartered company, LimeBike is fully committed to ensuring we are positive contributors to San Francisco,” Arellano said. “We are excited to continue working with the SFMTA, Board of Supervisors and community as the formal permit process is developed, to identify mobility solutions that meet the City’s equity goals and help connect all parts of the city.”

Arellano said the LimeBike scooters are powered by batteries and require collection every night, limiting the amount of time they are on the streets.

Bird, for its part, has crafted a “Save our Sidewalks” pledge that it promises to adhere to, addressing the concerns of sidewalk blight head on.

The pledge commits the company to retrieving its vehicles “every night” so they are “not cluttering up our neighborhoods,” according to the pledge. The company also promised not to increase its supply of vehicles unless those vehicles are used at least three times per day, and to share the company’s data to help cities verify the scooters are being used.

Lastly, Bird promised to pay “$1 per vehicle per day” to city governments to put towards bike lanes and other street infracture.

“Operating these past months in Southern California, we have helped thousands of people avoid the traffic and carbon emissions that come from driving a car,” wrote Travis VanderZanden, CEO and Founder of Bird, in a statement. “We are thrilled to expand north and help the people of northern California take those last-mile trips without a car.”

A Bird dockless rental electric scooter outside a hotel on Monday, March 26, 2018. Companies are rolling out the sharable scooters in The City while officials are working on legislation to regulate them. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

This story has been updated to include a statement from LimeBike.

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