David Grey, a field technician at Scoot and a San Francisco native, inspects a new Kick scooter in the South of Market neighborhood on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Scoot’s local hires giving it an edge on the competition

David Grey does not cleanly fit the stereotype of a tech worker.

While yes, he is white and male, and in his mid-thirties, he’s also a bit rough around the edges — he sports an unkempt, scraggly beard, and the dirt on his uniform speaks to long hours working outside, not cloistered in the frills-laden offices of a tech mobility company in a billion-dollar industry.

And perhaps most surprising about Grey, one of Scoot’s recently hired field technicians to maintain its e-scooter fleet, is that he’s a local. Grey was born and raised in San Francisco.

“I get to run around my city” for work repairing and servicing e-scooters, Grey said. He has a sense of pride in his work, he said, because instead of Scoot buying most of its parts off the shelf, “we build our own locks, our own app, we customize those vehicles.”

When asked that age-old San Franciscan question — Where’d you go to high school? — the SF local answers in a heartbeat.

“Washington,” he said, for George Washington High School.

This is not usual. In the realm of tech mobility, companies often rely on fleets of independent contractors to maintain their fleets of vehicles.

Uber and Lyft are known for attracting drivers from as far away as Sacramento and Los Angeles to circle San Francisco’s streets.

But where other companies sing the gospel of “disruption,” Scoot worked closely with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to develop permitting structures and transportation codes to help roll out its iconic red mopeds.

Now as the company nears the midway point in a pilot program to run e-scooters in San Francisco, which will be accompanied by an evaluation from SFMTA due sometime this month, Scoot is ramping up hires of people who live in The City, and are from The City.

David Gray, a field technician at Scoot and a San Francisco native, inspects a new Kick scooter in the South of Market neighborhood on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Keeping in The City’s good graces is important to the company as it undergoes that mid-pilot evaluation, as a number of rival scooter companies are vying to debut in the San Francisco market.

And not all has been rosy between Scoot and San Francisco.

In November last year a Bayview group Economic Development on Third skewered the company for its lack of e-scooters in the neighborhood. Scoot’s permit was partially awarded based on its promises of equity, which the group said Scoot was failing.

However, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said local hire is also part of the evaluation in the e-scooter companies’ permit applications.

“We did consider it,” he said.

Which could mean good news for Scoot, especially in light of the recent heat from the Bayview.

When Scoot proposed staffing its mechanics as full-time employees with full benefits and compensation packages “designed to increase retention,” to offer robust training to promote “growth and longevity” at Scoot, and to recruit from City College of San Francisco, it was rated as a “strong” segment of its permit application by SFMTA.

Out of its roughly 40 in-house mechanics who manage its “Kicks” e-scooter fleet, seven were born and raised in San Francisco, Scoot told the San Francisco Examiner. Even more of those employees are locals raised across the Bay Area.

Jasmine Wallsmith, Scoot’s spokesperson, herself hails from Marin. She said the company hired 13 of those 40 field technicians since October last year, when SFMTA allowed them to begin running e-scooters on city streets.

Those mechanics in Scoot’s “fleet team” are employees and start at $22.15 an hour. Independent contractor mechanics at some other scooter companies are paid peanuts — sometimes even based purely on how many scooters they service in a day.

“Amidst stories of mobility gig workers suffering pay cuts or being paid below minimum wage, we are more committed than ever to running Scoot’s fleet operations with full-time mechanics who have benefits and equity in the company,” Wallsmith said in a statement.

While a percentage of local hires is a requirement in some industries that do business with San Francisco, including construction trades, no such requirement exists for tech mobility companies permitted by the SFMTA.

Whether or not Scoot’s local hiring will ultimately benefit its bid to continue operating in San Francisco, Grey at least will benefit from the local hire push. After SFMTA accepted Scoot’s application last year, Scoot put the word out that it was hiring on Craigslist, which is how Grey applied.

It’s a leg up for him into the odd tech industry, which to some city natives is as strange as an invasion by a foreign political power.

“It was a real thing when the Twitter sign went up” on Market Street, Grey said.

Working in the tech industry was an adjustment, he said. Like he assumed, there were indeed bean bag chairs at Scoot, and they have one of those fully stocked kitchens San Franciscans roll their eyes at.

The paperwork isn’t paper, either, it’s on smartphones. Even the internal software they use for work is designed to look like consumer smartphone apps, and he has met more of his coworkers on the group-chat application “Slack” than he has in person, another new tech doohickey to master in an industry filled with tech doohickeys.

“I did retail a long time,” he said, elongating the word “long” in the sentence. He also worked in a Pier 39 restaurant he didn’t care to name.

“In a city of great restaurants, it wasn’t a great restaurant,” he said simply.

Now, however, Grey has an “in” to move up, in a tech-mobility company with one of the only two permits to operate in San Francisco. After Scoot receives its mid-pilot evaluation report The City will see if SFMTA will expand that permit to allow other companies to operate in San Francisco.

If Scoot’s experience is any indication, it may help if they hire more San Franciscans like David Grey.

joe@sfexaminer.com Transit

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