10,000 e-scooters? Not so fast — SF slashes fleet sizes before launch

A plan for 4,000 e-scooters to hit San Francisco streets Tuesday has been sharply downsized.

San Francisco city officials expressed displeasure with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Powered Scooter Program, which would eventually see 10,000 e-scooters rolling down city streets.

Now SFMTA has told e-scooter companies they must pull back their fleet sizes, potentially threatening local hiring agreements to help San Franciscans obtain much-coveted tech jobs.

Four companies, Spin, Scoot, Lime and Jump will instead debut a combined fleet of 2,500 e-scooters on October 15.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, perhaps the chief critic of the initial larger fleet size — though not the sole critic — praised SFMTA for listening to elected officials, who were worried too many e-scooters on the streets would lead to pedestrian injuries, or fatalities, on city sidewalks.

“I think they have gotten the message that they need to go slow and say hello, and keep it safe,” Peskin said. “They’ve regrouped. They’ve sat down with the companies, and understand that safety comes first.”

SFMTA announced the four awardees of its much-sought-after Powered Scooter Program permit on Sept. 25. Of those permittees, Scoot is lucking out over its competitors — the company will be able to run 1,000 e-scooters on launch day October 15, whereas its competitors Spin, Lime and the Uber-owned Jump will only be allowed 500 e-scooters apiece.

Initially, each company was told it would be allowed to operate 1,000 e-scooters apiece.

The reduction may make it difficult for those e-scooter companies to provide service across all of San Francisco, as they are required to do. Transit advocates have previously expressed dismay that smaller e-scooter fleets can make access to transit inequitable — easier for the wealthy, more difficult for those in poverty.

In a blog post last Friday SFMTA wrote, perhaps with a mind to Peskin, “We are grateful for all the constructive feedback received throughout this process.”

While the initial rollout will be smaller, the cap on fleet size is scheduled to jump to 750 on December 15, and again to 1,000 per company on February 15, should each company meet SFMTA’s permit terms.

That means those companies need to be responsive to complaints about e-scooter riders riding on sidewalks or parking them in a fashion that blocks the public right-of-way, and provide adequate service across San Francisco.

Originally, however, SFMTA said e-scooter companies could be able to one day expand their fleet size to 2,500 apiece.

When asked if that fleet size is still a possibility SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato said, “Any number above the cap we have set for February would be subject to stringent requirements. Within the foreseeable future, we do not anticipate seeing anything close to that number.”

In the Friday blog post, SFMTA also explained Scoot’s fleet-size advantage over other e-scooter companies by saying the company “has been in good standing and has undertaken extensive community outreach” and exceeded its low-income membership plan goals.

Scoot has worked with SFMTA on permits for its moped scooters for years, earning it a reputation within SFMTA for spurning the disruption mentality of its technology industry peers.

Still, other e-scooter companies are hoping they can earn a higher fleet size due to their existing hiring commitments, which they said may be jeopardized by having fewer e-scooters for their mechanics to fix, or for teams to redistribute across The City.

Other companies may soon need to freeze hiring plans.

Spin, in particular, has commitments with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and has worked with 11 local hire organizations, like Goodwill and the Mission Economic Development Agency, to hire San Franciscans.

“Halving Spin’s allotment to only 500 scooters jeopardizes our commitments to our local hire partners to provide good jobs to our city’s most vulnerable workers, and may be forced to place job offers on hold in light of the last-minute changes,” Nima Rahimi, senior policy counsel at Spin.

It also may financially reward other companies like Jump and Lime, which plan to hire some workers as temps from staffing agencies like Bluewcrew or Populus, instead of hiring directly. The Board of Supervisors recently skewered the practice, saying temp agencies are barriers to unionization and obtaining health care.

While Bluewcrew told the San Francisco Examiner they could not say what portion of their staff obtains healthcare, Uber said Populus hires its employees full time and therefore provides medical benefits to its W-2 staff, as well as overtime, unemployment insurance, and workers compensation.

When asked if Peskin would consider urging SFMTA to raise the number of e-scooters allowed for companies that locally hire — especially considering he authored a resolution criticizing the use of temp agencies in the e-scooter industry — he simply said, “everything is on the table.”

But, Peskin added, “none of these companies should think they have carte blanche to make scooter-geddon. These are all extremely well-funded companies. Let’s see if they behave.”

joe@sfexaminer.com

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