Only two companies were allowed to rent out scooters in San Francisco under a pilot permit program, but that number is expected to increase under a new program approved Tuesday. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

E-scooter permit program made permanent, number of vehicles may expand

City sets tough standards for companies hoping to win approval to operate in San Francisco

E-scooter rentals are here to stay, and soon their numbers may grow.

But if companies like Scoot, Skip and others want to rent e-scooters in San Francisco, they’re going to have to ensure they recruit customers who aren’t just white, male and rich, like the majority of those riding the “shared” e-scooters here now, according to a recent city survey.

That’s after a vote of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors on Tuesday to make a once-temporary pilot program to test e-scooter rental fleets in The City permanent.

That pilot program, which began in October last year, was largely successful, transportation officials said Tuesday. SFMTA will solicit new vendors to offer e-scooters for rent in San Francisco’s new permanent program by October, when the pilot program is set to sunset.

The new permanent program will also give the SFMTA’s director of transportation the ability to expand the number of e-scooters allowed under each company’s permit. The pilot program only allowed two companies, Skip and Scoot, to operate 1,250 e-scooters each.

But companies interested in applying will need to show they’re ready to take on stricter requirements, SFMTA staff said Tuesday.

“We want to challenge the scooter operators to come to us with a really great plan to cater to low-income communities, to operate outside of downtown,” said Tom Maguire, interim SFMTA director, in a presentation to the board. “We want to set the bar really high and only accept those who meet criteria to operate in San Francisco.”

That may naturally limit the number of companies awarded permits, Maguire said, possibly to fewer than five. There were roughly a dozen applicants for the pilot program, including Uber, Lyft and other multi-billion-dollar companies.

The competition for city scooter contracts has intensified around the country, with local company Scoot being acquired by e-scooter company Bird just last month in what many San Francisco insiders viewed as a bid to obtain an e-scooter rental permit here in The City.

The stricter requirements in the permanent e-scooter permit program include a required locking mechanism to lock e-scooters to bike racks, a new fee to pay for increased bike rack installation, more “robust” safety reporting and a database of incidents, as well as a commitment to a low-income program, and a 24-hour call center for complaints, said Jason Hyde, a senior transportation planner at SFMTA, in a presentation to the board. SFMTA would also give permit preference to companies who commit to education programs for riders and making helmets available.

SFMTA will also draw the map of where e-scooter companies can operate within The City.

Previously, the agency let companies draw their own maps, which mostly meant the vehicles stayed in the lucrative downtown area, SFMTA staff said.

SFMTA board members had other concerns.

“What are we doing to keep these off the sidewalks? That’s all I’m hearing” from the public, said SFMTA board director Art Torres.

The new e-scooters will be required to have visible, easily identifiable numbers so people can make complaints about specific sidewalk-riding scofflaws, SFMTA staff said.

SFMTA board director Cheryl Brinkman praised staff for taking a cautious approach to expanding the presence of e-scooters in San Francisco, while parts of Oakland seem to be overrun with unused e-scooters.

“The scooter litter around some of the BART stations is breathtaking,” she said.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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