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San Francisco Denies Scooter Permits to Uber, Lyft, Bird, and Others

Today’s ruling is a giant middle-finger to Uber, Lyft, Bird, and others who did not receive permits.

by Sarah Emerson
Aug 30 2018, 8:51pm

Image: Sarah Emerson

San Francisco just slammed the door on scooter companies hoping to do business in the city.

Today, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) announced which scooter startups will receive special operating permits, after citizens opposed their tactics, likening them to a sidewalk plague, and claiming they posed a threat to pedestrian safety.

Of at least twelve companies that applied to the 12-month pilot program, only Scoot and Skip were granted permission by the city. Skip claimed to be “the first permitted system operating anywhere,” co-founder and CEO Sanjay Dastoor told Techcrunch in May, having partnered with Washington, DC at the time.

Today’s ruling is a giant middle-finger to Uber, Lyft, Bird, and others who did not receive permits. A spokesperson for SFMTA told the San Francisco Examiner that its decision marks “the next chapter in the shared mobility story,” and that it expects “private operators will act in the public interest, that’s what the permit process is all about.”

Bird told Motherboard in a statement:

As Bird nears its goal of providing transportation to riders in 50 cities globally before the end of 2018, we will continue to work with San Francisco officials, partners, community organizations, and advocates in hopes of bringing Bird back to the City by the Bay. Over the past several weeks, SF residents have sent nearly 30,000 emails to city officials expressing their desire to have access to Bird. While we are disappointed with today’s decision, we hope to have the opportunity to meet the needs of SF residents and to help the city achieve it’s transportation goals following this initial test period.

This year, startups like Bird and Lime inundated streets with electric scooters. It was a predictable Silicon Valley move—ask for forgiveness, not permission—but one that ired residents, cyclists, and people sick of the tech industry’s lawless recklessness. Scooters were graffitied, disemboweled, and even pooped on to make a point. In May, piles of scooters were used to blockade Google and Apple commuter buses during a protest against “techsploitation” in the Bay Area.

Gig economy contractors who earned money by recharging the scooters told Motherboard the job was exploitative at times. Companies like Bird, one charger said, were dismissive when things went wrong, such as workers getting yelled at for retrieving scooters on private property, or the conflicts that arose when people would hoard them in their homes.

For the first six months of the program, SFMTA will allow 1,250 scooters within city limits. That number may be increased to 2,500 scooters if things go well. Some of the requirements for Scoot and Skip are rider education tools, a plan to serve low-income communities, and a privacy policy that protects user data. They must also share anonymized trip data with the city, which is a level of transparency that companies such as Uber have historically resisted.

San Francisco has been scooter-free since June 4, after the city demanded startups remove their fleets or be fined $100 per scooter. During that time, even more transportation companies branched out into scooters. Uber did so through JUMP, a bike sharing startup that it acquired for roughly $200 million—eventually, it hoped, integrating scooters into its app.

We don’t know what this means for the rejected scooter startups. San Francisco was a prime market for the nascent industry, but at least Bird and Lime have launched in several other cities with varying degrees of success, and after lobbying efforts aimed at shaping transportation rules in their favor.

The City of Santa Monica also announced its scooter permits today, awarding them to Bird, JUMP, Lime, and Lyft.