Contractor Jordan Fierro drops off a fleet of Skip Scooters near the Westfield San Francisco Centre Mall on Market Street on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF will allow e-scooter fleet to double if Scoot, Skip recruit more low-income customers

Data shows scooter riders largely white, affluent and male

San Francisco, get ready: The number of e-scooters on the streets may soon double.

Roughly 2,500 e-scooters will be allowed to roam The City under a fleet expansion permitted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the agency told reporters Monday.

But there’s a catch.

The companies will only be allowed to double their fleets in San Francisco if more people sign up for discounted payment programs aimed at low-income cusotmers, SFTMA said. The number of low-income customers signed up for each company’s program is perhaps shockingly low: Only 68 program members ride with Scoot, and 78 with Skip.

That’s out of roughly 39,000 Skip e-scooter customers who use roughly 625 available e-scooters. Scoot has not provided a public number of customers who use its own 625 available e-scooters, but has said its number is lower than Skip’s.

Riders can sign up for Scoot and Skip’s low-income payment programs by showing proof of using government or other discount programs, like food assistance programs, discounted utility bills, Medicaid membership, or Temporary Assitance for Needy Families membership.

The failure of both companies to enroll low-income people is reflected glaringly in their user base, according to survey data provided by SFMTA. Riders of Scoot and Skip are 63 percent white, 68 percent with incomes over $100,000 annually, and 82 percent male.

Rich white men, then, perhaps are not clamoring for e-scooter affordability programs.

“We do need the scooter operators to take their equity commitments more seriously,” said Tom Maguire, head of SFMTA’s sustainble streets division.

The companies will be allowed to expand their fleet by 175 scooters each when they meet certain criteria, including deploying bike rack locks across 100 percent of their fleet and recruiting more than 150 low-income plan members, according to SFMTA. Once those companies reach more than 500 low-income plan members, SFMTA will allow them to expand their fleets by an additional 450 e-scooters.

Maguire said the companies will also need to keep more e-scooters available at a time. Though 625 are permitted on the streets from each company at any one time, their availability has been sketchy at best, according to SFMTA data.

“The number of scooters on the street has varied widely,” Maguire said.

No matter who rides e-scooters in the next six months, only Scoot and Skip will provide those rides, SFMTA revealed Monday, dashing the hopes of roughly ten other e-scooter companies. Companies that missed out on the first round of the SFMTA’s Powered Scooter Pilot Program, which launched last October with permits for Scoot and Skip alone, are still lobbying to be considered permits at the midpoint.

While the increased number of e-scooters may have caused alarm among San Franciscans early last year, the pilot program was fairly small to begin with — and has garnered few public complaints.

Just 1,250 e-scooters are allowed on city streets right now, split evenly between Scoot and Skip. That limited number of e-scooters was mandated for the first six months of the pilot program, mostly in response to complaints from the public when other e-scooter companies dropped them unceremoniously on city streets. The pilot program was scaled back to allow SFMTA to study the e-scooters’ impacts on city streets.

Now that the pilot program has reached a midway point, SFMTA is considering allowing that number to increase. In public documents, SFMTA staff argued more e-scooters were needed to effectively study their impacts on San Francisco.

Ten other companies, Bird, Spin, Lime, ofo, Lyft, Hopr, Uscooter, Uber-owned Jump, Ridecell and Razor, applied for permits previously with The City but were denied. Spin, Jump and Lime appealed those permit losses, and an SFMTA hearing officer recommended the companies that appealed be granted permits to operate in San Francisco in the expansion of the pilot at its midway point.

SFMTA declined to do so. It’ll just be Scoot and Skip in The City, for now.

And although there have been some bumps on the road during the pilot regarding the low income plans, the once-dreaded e-scooters are otherwise rolling fairly smoothly, according to data provided by the SFMTA.

When e-scooter companies Bird, Lime and Spin launched last March without any city permits, complaints to 311 reached nearly 2,000 during a six week period. By contrast, there have been just 624 complaints for improper parking of e-scooters during the six-month pilot program and 69 complaints of improper riding.

During the unpermitted launch, many San Franciscans complained of tipped over e-scooters blocking public sidewalks. Scoot mostly solved this problem in February by installing a “lock-to” system on the e-scooters that attach them to bike parking or poles. Most of the improper parking complaints, 127 out of 166, are for Scoot’s rival company Skip.

Collisions have also been low. Skip has documented 34 collisions in 218,000 rides, with 18 injury collisions. Scoot reported zero collisions, with “many fewer trips taken to date,” according to SFMTA.

That’s not to say Scoot and Skip’s launch have been without the occasional swerve.

The lack of equity in the scooter programs is not new. In a review of the two companies’ first accountability reports to the SFMTA in February, which were mandated to be delivered within 90 days of the pilot’s launch, the San Francisco Examiner found Scoot and Skip failed to meet, or substantially meet, some major promises in their permit applications to SFMTA.

In addition to the low-income program recruitment woes, Skip did not update SFMTA on a “community advisory board” they promised to form, which was one major promise to allow public input on the e-scooter program.

And Scoot also did not provide helmets in a “lockable box” like it promised in its application to The City. In its accountability report, the company wrote “we continue to look at options for including a helmet on the vehicle” but the company has “no plan” to roll out a scooter with helmet box in the near future.

SFMTA said this was not necessarily a hard requirement for their permits, but would be encouraging the companies to develop helmet programs.

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