The talk of the transportation world is a Los Angeles Times story skewering local e-scooter company Scoot for allegedly cutting out two poor neighborhoods in San Francisco from its service.
Scoot drew artificial boundaries on its app around the Tenderloin and parts of Chinatown, the newspaper reported, creating these “no parking” zones effectively deprived poor neighborhoods of e-scooters.
While this earned the company a public black eye, and many online described the practice as allegedly racist and classist, one Chinatown group used different words to describe the alleged redlining: Thank you.
“We asked for it, and Scoot listened,” said Queena Chen, co-chair of the transportation advocacy group Chinatown TRIP.
That’s because Stockton Street in Chinatown is a busy pedestrian thoroughfare trafficked by locals shopping in the area’s many shops, and is among the most heavily trafficked pedestrian corridors in The City. Walking is the primary mode of travel in Chinatown, according to the 2009-2013 American Community Survey.
Some in San Francisco’s communities have also viewed e-scooters largely as the toys of rich white men, which a city survey backed up: Riders of Scoot and Skip are 63 percent white, 68 percent with incomes over $100,000 annually, and 82 percent male.
Chen said Chinatown seniors and families aren’t keen on e-scooters, and instead view e-scooters parked on the sidewalk as threats to seniors who walk in the neighborhood.
Another Chinatown leader, Malcolm Yeung, also said the e-scooters were not a good fit for Chinatown. He’s the deputy director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, a nonprofit that leads in many city discussions concerning Chinatown.
“For a pedestrian-dense place like Chinatown, we can’t afford that additional kind of clutter and blockage on the sidewalks,” he said. Keeping e-scooters out of the neighborhood is “probably a good thing for Chinatown in this moment.”
Chinatown leaders met with Scoot and Skip in meetings during the fall of 2018, shortly after the two companies were exclusively awarded The City’s Powered Scooter Pilot Program permits by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, in October.
During those Fall meetings, Chen said, Chinatown TRIP and other leaders asked for a no-parking zone to be established for Scoot and Skip in Chinatown. In a letter to the LA Times after their article ran, which was shared with the San Francisco Examiner, Chen said “the map you show in your article is reflective of the intentions of the community, but unfortunately, Skip has not followed suit with our request.”
Chinatown TRIP also asked the Uber-owned bikeshare company Jump Bikes to comply with their no-parking zone request, but “Jump to date has not granted our request,” Chen wrote.
Scoot Founder and President Michael Keating responded to the critiques of redlining by saying the company did not allow scooters in the Tenderloin and Chinatown “as a result of concerns expressed to us by community leaders and organizations in the Tenderloin and Chinatown communities.”
While Chinatown TRIP confirmed Keating’s statement, the San Francisco Examiner was unable to confirm Tenderloin leaders did the same.
SFMTA spokesperson Benjamin Barnett confirmed the agency did not ask Scoot to block out any city neighborhoods.
“SFMTA never asked Scoot to avoid any areas,” Barnett wrote.
The Tenderloin Community Benefit District had discussions with Scoot about its launch, the Examiner was told by insiders with knowledge of those negotiations, but the Tenderloin CBD did not respond to calls by press time.
It is well known among Tenderloin neighbors that the neighborhood has chop shops where e-scooters, e-bikes and more are broken down to sell parts.
While neighborhood groups have publicly recognized this reality, they have still pushed for e-scooter access.
The Lower Polk Community Benefits District, which has a border that straddles the Tenderloin, penned an editorial in the San Francisco Examiner calling on e-scooter companies to deploy more responsibly and using an advisory board made up of community members to ensure that its done well.
“In my neighborhood of the Lower Polk, we are resource-rich with the ability to pick many different kinds of alternative transportation,” wrote Lower Polk CBD executive director Christian Martin. “Yet when I talk to my colleagues, a different menu of options exists, one usually not as plentiful. Feedback from different neighborhoods across the City includes prolonged periods waiting for a car share and difficulty finding a station to park a Ford Bike.”
When asked about blocking e-scooters out of the Tenderloin, Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the neighborhood, said he has “called Scoot about this issue.”
“I have actually brought up the lack of access in the TL for the regular scooters (the sit down ones) a few times in the past,” he said.
“To my knowledge,” no one has asked Scoot to not deploy e-scooters in the Tenderloin, he said.
“I certainly did not,” he said.