Coronavirus pushes SF e-scooter companies to ‘pause’ operations

Spin is only operator to maintain service with SFMTA’s backing

The transit-pocalypse sapping riders from Muni, BART, and ferries has claimed another San Francisco wheeled-service: e-scooters.

Three out of four San Francisco-based e-scooter rental companies are pausing operations due to coronavirus pandemic concerns, those companies announced.

Lime, Scoot, and Jump, which is owned by Uber, have all said they will pause local operations.

The lone e-scooter company still operating in San Francisco, for now, is Spin, which is owned and operated by Ford Motor Company.

But Spin may have city backing in doing so: In an email, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency told “shared mobility operators,” which include e-bike operators, that e-scooter rentals and bikeshare are considered “essential” services with city permission to continue operation, even as many local businesses have been ordered to close.

“We thank all operators in advance for continuing service,” SFMTA wrote to mobility operators in an email, “it remains our vision that healthy mobility options for San Franciscans remain available for all essential trips.”

Still, SFMTA said it would waive requirements that e-scooter companies maintain certain levels of service for the duration of the coronavirus crisis, and that “it is OK if an operator decides to suspend service during the crisis.”

San Franciscans were ordered to shelter-in-place starting Tuesday. Mayor London Breed also ordered non-essential businesses, like bars, to close, sending much of The City’s service-based industries into a tailspin. Similarly, ridership on BART dropped to 88 percent Wednesday, and Muni is losing $1 million weekly due to a ridership drop, according to the SFMTA.

Many transit riders say publicly they have avoided public transit as they try to remain “socially distant,” an effort to keep clear of others to avoid contamination.

In a statement, Spin Senior Policy Council Nima Rahimi said e-scooters can offer an alternative to public transportation in light of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to maintain “social distancing.”

“Our service can provide transportation access for essential trips — like rides to grocery stores and pharmacies to medical care and COVID-19 testing facilities — that by its nature allows for social distancing,” Rahimi wrote in a statement.

But to keep riders safe, the e-scooter company has increased the frequency at which it cleans its e-scooters, and is offering hourly employees an additional five days of paid wellness leave on top of existing sick pay. Should warehouses suspend operations due to coronavirus or government order, Spin said it would continue to pay furloughed hourly workers up to four weeks.

In addition to halting its “kicks” e-scooter service, Scoot also paused its moped rental operation.

“We will continue our close dialogue with city officials and will again offer our safe, clean transportation alternative as soon as possible. Until then, we wish everyone an abundance of health and well being,” wrote a Scoot spokesperson.

Lime’s service pause wasn’t just in San Francisco but in much of the world.

The company began “winding down” its service in Austria, Israel, Greece, Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Bulgaria, and other markets around the world, according to a company blog. It maintains open operations in a handful of countries, including Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

“Loving cities means protecting them too. For now, we’re pausing Lime service to help people stay put and stay safe,” the company wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

While Jump did pause its e-scooter operations and began to remove its e-scooters from the streets Tuesday, it still will offer its 250 e-bikes for rental, an Uber spokesperson said, albeit with a reduced service area that mostly covers The City’s East side, from part of the Bayview and Excelsior and up north to Presidio Heights, bordered by Golden Gate Park’s western edge.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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