Scooter company Spin lost its bid to operate in San Francisco but now it’s trying to spin that decision around.
The City held the first administrative appeal of its Powered Scooter Permit Pilot Program on Thursday afternoon, allowing Spin to air its grievances.
They were many.
Spin alleges the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s selection process to permit e-scooters in San Francisco was “biased” from the start, and that the selection process should start over from scratch.
“This appeal is about process,” said Spin attorney Jeff Tsai, in his opening remarks. He argued Spin did not have to prove its application is superior, or worthy of winning, just that SFMTA’s process was flawed and needed a reboot.
Deputy City Attorney Molly Alarcon, on the other hand, argued Spin lost the application process fair and square.
“In short,” she said, “Spin did not have a great application.”
A dozen companies vied for e-scooter permits from the SFMTA, all seeking the crown in the newest and seemingly lucrative mobility sector — electric motor-powered kick scooters. In August, scooter companies Scoot and Skip won out, but losing companies Spin, Lime and JUMP have all appealed the decision and will see hearings between November and December. Those tiny scooter companies are not-so-tiny anymore, as Spin was purchased by Ford Motor Company for a reported $100 million, and JUMP was acquired by Uber for a reported $200 million.
Thursday was the first of these hearings, with the last scheduled for Dec. 7. SFMTA Administrative Hearing Officer James Doyle said he would not come to a decision until all hearings were concluded.
There was one lone witness called at the meeting, Spin head of public policy Brian Kyuhoon No, though he was accompanied by a prop — a Spin scooter.
Attorneys for Spin said they sought SFMTA employees and even Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin as witnesses, who declined to speak at the hearing. He called this out as “the empty chair in the room.”
To back their claims of bias, Spin entered emails obtained in public records requests as evidence, including an email to Reiskin and other SFMTA leadership from Lee Hsu, a member of the agency’s board of directors. Attorneys claimed various emails from directors showed the directors wanted to punish Spin, Bird and Lime for launching in San Francisco before regulations were created.
“It’d send a compelling message if the first permit for e-scooters is granted to a company that did not jump the gun after being explicitly asked not to,” Hsu wrote to the agency in a May 3 email, adding “a company that waited and respected the rules should not be penalized.”
Alacron countered that Hsu’s email obeys the very heart of the process the SFMTA board approved the day before.
On May 2, the SFMTA board voted to allow Reiskin to base e-scooter permit decision both on criteria and also “past experience,” including “compliance with applicable laws.”
Taking those criteria into account, Alacron argued Spin’s accusation of bias “makes no sense.”
Notably, Hsu’s letter also said Spin, Lime and Bird shouldn’t be “foreclosed altogether,” rather they should make “future atonement.” The City Attorney’s Office, in a statement, later told the San Francisco Examiner Spin was trying to “muddy the waters” of the selection process.
Spin also alleged rival company Scoot was approved for permits despite not having a full low-income discount program in place, a key requirement of the program. Scoot was critiqued in SFMTA’s evaluation of its equitable access proposal as being “poor” because Scoot “claim that their rate is already affordable; standard rate is similar to other applicants” SFMTA staff wrote.
Since it launched in October, Scoot has changed its tune: It now offers 50 percent off its price for low-income users.