Scooting to nowhere: SF parking permits may halt expansion of tech transit company

Technology’s changing the face of transportation — Uber is as commonplace as taxis, and Wi-Fi enabled “Google Buses” soar through the Mission.

Many of those technologies heralded changes in local laws. But while these services grabbed national headlines by jumping in head first and demanding changes in law later, one tech company’s trying to work within existing regulations.

Scoot, an on-demand scooter rental service known for its ubiquitous little red scooters, is hitting a bump in the road to expansion, as a local regulator considers new parking permit regulations. The new rules could eliminate scooter parking used by nearly half of Scoot’s customers.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency passed regulations to require parking permits in “Area Q” earlier this year, a location in and around Divisadero Street near Alamo Square Park. Eli Saddler, Scoot location manager, said of its nearly 6,000 active users, up to half drive to the neighborhood monthly.

Those approvals are set to go into effect September 1, and Scoot is not happy.

Scoot falls into regulatory limbo, the SFMTA admitted Tuesday meeting at its Board of Directors meeting. If the Area Q permits are enabled for the neighborhood, nearly half of Scoot’s users would be barred from parking there for long periods of time.

“That,” Saddler said, “would be devastating.”

More than 30 Scoot supporters were present, some wearing red.

SFMTA director Ed Reiskin said his staff would look into creating special exemptions for Scoot. But, he said, they’d take until November to deliver their findings. Concrete changes could be as far out as 2016.

“Scoot can’t wait a year,” Saddler said.

There’s no sign yet an exemption will happen earlier than Sept. 1, the day Area Q’s anticipated to go into effect.

Image via SFMTA

Some tech-enabled carshare programs already partner with The City. Getaround has hundreds of parking spaces throughout San Francisco in partnership with the SFMTA, a company spokeswoman said.

As of now, even if Scoot wanted to purchase permits (which it says it does), it couldn’t, because those permits don’t exist, according to the SFMTA.

Scoot has no legal recourse, representatives said. That seemingly infuriated Scoot founder Michael Keating, who argued publicly to the board that his company plays by the rules,

“Scoot is not Uber, we are not Google Buses,” he said, arguing his service keeps cars off the road, a goal of the SFMTA. “We want to ask the SFMTA to hold off and do the right thing.”

It’s still unclear what the SFMTA’s next move is.

“It’s too early to provide details at this point, but Scoot did make some compelling points at the board meeting,” said Paul Rose, an SFMTA spokesman.

But, he said, the agency’s exploring their options how to best move forward, “quickly.”

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