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Shared bikes, e-scooters, ‘dockless jetpacks’: Open-ended SF permit could tackle all future e-transit

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A woman rides a Bird dockless electric scooter on Market Street. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Uber and Lyft. “Shared” mopeds. Dockless bicycles. Mobile-phone enabled motor scooters.

In the last half-decade the tech industry has turned San Francisco into a petri-dish of electronic-enabled transportation experiments, and now one city transit body wants to get ahead of the curve.

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority on Thursday released an Emerging Mobility Evaluation Report, offering recommendations to The City on how to handle the bevy of new tech transit in the future.

City government has been caught off-guard by some of these transit disruptions, said Warren Logan, a senior transportation planner at the SFCTA. That’s why chief among the recommendations is the creation of a catch-all “Emerging Mobility Service Permit.”

“So we’re not governing by fire-drill,” Logan said.

One need only look to the recent motorized e-scooter controversy to see what he means. The City did not have a permit structure for e-scooters in place before they launched in late March, leaving city officials with few tools to snap back at scofflaw scooters.

This new Emerging Mobility Service Permit would address any new tech transit mode, planners said.

“The next idea that comes along, I’m not even going to try to speculate what it is,” said Jeff Hobson, deputy director of planning at the SFCTA. Even if the next tech transit mode is “dockless jet packs,” he said, the permit would be a framework that says “here’s how to work with The City, please come talk to us before you land.”

The more than 80-page report offers numerous other recommendations, including “harmonizing” existing tech-transit permits to ask for the same rider data from companies, for The City to analyze how it could offer curb space to mitigate problems like double-parking Ubers, to develop taxes and fees to recoup congestion impacts as well as wear-and-tear on the road.

Another idea to address tech-transit congestion in the report is San Francisco Police Department-led “stings.” One such sting, led by SFPD’s Traffic Company, revealed Uber and Lyft vehicles engaged in unsafe traffic behaviors downtown far more often than private vehicles.

Some of the recommendations are farther off, such as offering a mobile phone app to unify information on the myriad available tech-transit solutions, automating video-led enforcement against ride-hail scofflaws, or developing a strategy to collect data from all tech-transit modes, from e-bikes to Uber, to better allow transportation planners to study their collective impact on city streets.

That may lead to increased transit service in outer neighborhoods in the west and south of The City, that right now see few tech-transit options, the planners said. “We want to pilot with (transit companies) on filling these gaps,” Logan said.

Encouraging outer-neighborhood service, late-night service, or tech-transit on the cheap for low-income people may require city subsidies, or trades for use of city curb space or other services, the planners said.

But, “it’s not enough that we partner with these companies,” Logan warned. “What do we get out of the deal?”

To know that, The City will need data.

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