The City of San Francisco has left scooter ridesharing companies no choice but to get off the streets and apply for a permit.
A joint ruling was issued today by the City Attorney of San Francisco, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and San Francisco Public Works (SFMTA), according to the San Francisco Examiner. It orders the startups—the most well-known being Bird, Spin, and Lime—to remove their scooters and cease operations by June 4. Bird alone has more than 1,600 scooters in San Francisco, according to recent estimates by the company.
Furthermore, the companies will need to apply for a permit to continue doing business in the city. The “Powered Scooter Share Permit Program” covers a 12-month pilot program, for which the companies can submit their applications no later than June 7.
“The SFMTA will review the applications and expects to determine which, if any, companies qualify for a permit by the end of June,” wrote the agency today, according to the San Francisco Examiner.
Any scooters left on the street will be impounded, and could also result in daily fines of $100 per scooter. Refusing to remove its scooters will disqualify a company from obtaining a permit, said SFMTA.
Up until now, both sides of the scooter debate have merely lobbed threats at one another. The startups claim they’re a better, more sustainable mode of transportation. But many San Francisco residents argue they’re a nuisance and threat to pedestrian safety. Last month, City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued a cease and desist to Bird, Spin, and Lime over “unlawful conduct,” which the companies ignored.
Tensions became so high within recent months that people began destroying and vandalizing the scooters, as Motherboard previously reported. The new ridesharing trend has also created a controversial new workforce of independent contractors, or gig workers, to charge and replace the fleets of scooters each day.
Spin told Motherboard that it "will remove all scooters by June 4th" and is in the process of completing its permit application.
Lime issued a statement saying:
We are excited to apply for a permit and will comply with the city’s request that all electric scooters be removed by June 4. We applaud the SFMTA and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera for expediting the permit application and approval process to ensure minimal disruption to riders.
We recognize there is still a learning curve for many riders and will use the time our scooters are off the streets to further promote rider safety and proper parking in the community, as well as local hiring, with the help of our San Francisco partners.
During our limited launch program, our scooters were used multiple times throughout the day - we know there is a need, and we want to collaborate with the city. Electric scooters are an integral, emissions-free mode of transportation that can help get people out of cars, reduce congestion and protect the environment—ideals we strive for as a Bay Area-based company.
Bird said it looks forward "to working closely with the SFMTA to obtain a permit," adding that tens of thousands of San Franciscans will soon have ridden more than 100,000 miles on its scooters. "The demand for a way to get around San Francisco that does not add to congestion or carbon emissions is clear, and we look forward to meeting it in the days to come," the company said.
The company did not address whether it will be removing its scooters from San Francisco streets by the city's deadline.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Bird, Spin, and Lime.