Bayview merchants say e-scooter company Scoot is breaking its promise to distribute scooters equitably across neighborhoods including theirs.
“We would prefer these companies to hold up to what they’re offering to the community,” said April Spears, proprietor of Auntie April’s Chicken, Waffles & Soul Food Restaurant on Third Street.
When the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency approved its Powered Scooter Pilot Program in August, it awarded the much sought-after e-scooter permits to two companies, Scoot and Skip. As part of the deal, The City designated service areas, and Scoot was given part of the Bayview to serve.
Merchants along the Third Street corridor now allege Scoot is failing to hold up its end of the bargain.
The group Economic Development on Third, is focused on making the corridor a vibrant economy, and its corridor manager Earl Thomas said scooters have a large role to play in that. Scoot, however, needs to increase the number of its scooters available.
“Here’s my issue: The SFMTA gave them a permit to operate based on their narrative of equity,” he said, but “ever since their press conference, which was two weeks ago, the number went down rapidly.”
SFMTA has mandated that 20 percent of scooters should be distributed to underserved communities, as part of the pilot program. In a statement, Scoot said it is meeting that goal.
“Each morning Scoot’s deployment team ensures that underserved communities, such as the Bayview, have equitable access to kick scooters on a daily basis,” said Scoot CEO Michael Keating. “We regularly meet or exceed the mandated 20 percent deployment requirements defined by the SFMTA permit for underserved communities.”
Even if Scoot’s numbers are accurate, other data may show where the problem lies: Private transit advocates have long said the SFMTA didn’t allow enough e-scooters on the street, period. The agency only allowed 1,250 e-scooters from both companies, total, to dot city neighborhoods.
That means Scoot only has 625 e-scooters to see distributed between Hayes Valley, part of the Mission, South of Market, the Financial District, Mission Bay, South Beach, the Dog Patch, and Bayview.
The merchant’s concerns join a chorus of complaints from Supervisors Malia Cohen and Ahsha Safai, who have demanded scooter equity for the southern San Franciscan neighborhoods they represent. The complaints also mirror that of rival e-scooter company Lime, which sought an injunction to halt the pilot program after it was not awarded an SFMTA permit and has since criticized the process, the availability of e-scooters and the competency of its competitors.
Still, Thomas wants SFMTA to ensure the companies are distributing even that limited number of scooters evenly into the Bayview. Screenshots he shared of Scoot’s availability show a dearth of the motorized vehicles available near Third Street, but swells of them available elsewhere in The City.
“Who from the MTA is monitoring this? I’m monitoring it! How does MTA know they’re living up to the bargain of equity?” Thomas said.
SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said they would hold Scoot accountable for its distribution, once they obtain data from the company.
“We are currently obtaining the data to ensure that the scooters are being distributed equitably,” he said in a statement. “We understand that making scooters available to everyone will require a true willingness on the part of the operators. As we hear community concerns regarding equity, we will make it a point to hold the operators accountable.”
Rose also said dockless transportation options like e-scooters, which can be parked on any sidewalk, require “more intensive labor and resources ” to redistribute to less dense areas since often people simply ride them to the downtown urban core.
Barbara Gratta, of the Bayview’s Gratta Wines, said merchants are often left out of the planning process. Scoot, in particular, notified the community they’d launch in the Bayview in an announcement, not as a question or conversation, she said.
“From a merchant perspective, we’d like to be included in the conversation in the get-go,” she said. “We know the neighborhood, and where best they know these things.”