Scooter companies are expanding cash payment options by partnering with stores including CVS Pharmacy and 7-Eleven. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF e-scooter companies move to accept the good green

Cash payment options becoming more common in The City

E-scooters seem to be eclipsing e-bikes in equal access to their mobility offerings.

While ride-hail giant Lyft has drawn flack from community groups and city leaders for its decision— since reversed — to stop accepting cash payments on their bikeshare rentals, e-scooter companies are mostly expanding cash payment options citywide.

That’s especially key for black and Latino households, roughly 50 percent of which may lack access to bank accounts, according to a 2005 city study.

San Francisco’s homegrown e-scooter company, Scoot, is the latest such organization to begin offering a cash payment option in The City, the company told the San Francisco Examiner this week.

“We are pleased to announce an upgraded cash payment option for our riders who do not have a credit or debit card,” Scoot founder and president Michael Keating said in a statement. “Cash payment is essential to our commitment to affordable and fast transportation for everyone.”

Scoot’s cash payment option will be available at CVS Pharmacy locations throughout San Francisco, as well as at 7-Eleven. Elsewhere, the option is available at Family Dollar and Speedway locations.

The company’s announcement comes on the heels of cash-controversy in the local transportation mobility industry.

Earlier in December, Lyft announced it would no longer accept cash for its Bay Wheels bike rentals. Lyft has an exclusivity contract with San Francisco that bars competition from entering the bikeshare market, under an agreement that requires the company to financially invest in bike parking, called “docks” throughout The City.

The move to end cash was met with criticism from the Board of Supervisors, including Supervisors Ahsha Safai, Hillary Ronen, and Matt Haney. Advocates working to provide low-income people of color with transportation, including Bicis Del Pueblo, also critiqued the move, citing the large number of unbanked people in San Francisco.

Lyft said that there were low numbers of enrollees in their low-income programs, with just 145 signups paying in cash Bay Area-wide (not just San Francisco). But the company only accepted cash payments in one location in San Francisco, in the South of Market neighborhood.

It was designed to fail, critics said.

While Lyft has since said it would temporarily halt its move to no longer accept cash, which also included an emphasis on pre-paid debit and credit cards, e-scooter companies permitted to operate in San Francisco have overwhelmingly pushed forward with ways to accept cash.

Much like Scoot is about to do, Lime takes cash payments at affiliate stores throughout The City. E-scooter company Spin allows cash payments at its headquarters and is actively researching expanding its cash payment options.

However Uber, which operates Jump e-scooters, only allows people to pay by pre-paid debit and credit cards.

Spin, Lime and Jump began offering their e-scooters in San Francisco in mid-October, and in a report to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in November said they had 54, 89, and 24 low-income program signups, respectively. Low-income programs and cash payments are often, but not always, linked.

Since that report, Spin is now at 171 signups for its low-income program. Lime is now at 292 signups.

Scoot is ahead of them all, largely because it had an extra year to operate under an SFMTA pilot program. That head start has allowed them to sign up 891 low-income San Franciscans to ride the two-wheelers at a discount, which they said demonstrates a demand for the service.

Many of the mobility providers have at some point or another described difficulty in making cash options more widely available to unbanked San Franciscans who need it — particularly immigrants, who are often afraid to sign up for services by name for fear of risking deportation.

Spin, which is owned by Ford Motor Company, has perhaps found the most novel solution for this problem. They just give away the service to those who can’t afford it.

“That’s part of the reason we went with ‘free’” as an option, said Nima Rahimi, public policy counsel at Spin. “So people don’t have to worry about that at all.”

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