SFMTA Passes Scooter Regs

Scooters in Hayes Valley. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Scooters in Hayes Valley. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

During its regular meeting yesterday, the SFMTA board of directors voted unanimously to start a pilot program to issue permits for electric dockless scooter rentals in the city of San Francisco.

What do the new regulations entail? Tom McGuire, Director of SFMTA’s Sustainable Streets Division, explained it in a blog post:

The SFMTA’s new “Powered Scooter Share Permit Program” establishes a 12-month pilot program, which may grant up to five permits. For the first six months, a total of 1,250 scooters may be permitted. If the first six months go well, that total may increase to 2,500 in months seven through 12. The increase in permitted scooters would be tied directly to how well any permitted operators meet the standards we set out in their permits.

As part of this program, scooter companies have to come up with solutions to get riders off the sidewalks and to keep the pedestrian right of way clear (both are already illegal, but the new regs will put the onus on the scooter companies to get riders to comply). They will also have to share data with SFMTA, come up with a low-income program, as well as a few other requirements as seen below:

A breakdown showing what will be required of Scooter companies. Image: SFMTA
A breakdown showing what will be required of Scooter companies. Image: SFMTA

“We believe electric scooters can be a great addition to our transportation system, as long as they aren’t being ridden on sidewalks and obstructing our already limited space for people walking,” wrote Walk San Francisco Policy & Program Director Cathy DeLuca in a prepared statement about the new program.

Bird, which so far is the most communicative of the three scooter companies currently operating in San Francisco, was not opposed to most of this regulatory framework–indeed, the company already has its “Save our Sidewalks” pledge which aims for many of the same goals as SFMTA. But they did not want a fixed cap on the number of scooters and issued this statement a short time before the vote: “While the SFMTA is proposing to cap the number of electric scooters to 500 per permit–about 0.1 percent of the nearly 500,000 cars currently in the city–we think allowing for a dynamic cap that responds to the demand for this type of transportation will give people more sustainable, convenient, and affordable alternatives to driving.”

The problem for the scooter companies is, given the fixed caps, they’re going to have to pull back hundreds of scooters and, as a result, may no longer be able to provide a viable service–especially in the geographically more spread out “communities of concern” the SFMTA wants them to serve.

This was part of the rub for scooter supporters. It’s also hard to argue that the electric scooters are damaging if compared to the half-million cars that currently ply and pollute the city of San Francisco. In just the last couple of weeks, a woman was killed crossing Ocean Avenue and a man was killed on 19th Avenue–not by scooters, but by cars. Both streets are known to be dangerous and are part of the ‘high-injury network.’ (Streetsblog even witnessed a crash on Ocean last year).

Yet these two deaths somehow received far less attention at City Hall or in the press than the scooter debate. Bottom line, scooters are not and never will be as damaging as cars. And if the scooter regs end up jamming up a budding industry that may already be reducing car-miles traveled, they will do more harm than good.

Ride stats from Bird

Either way, this new permit program is not the end of the scooter debate. And as people become more accustomed to this form of transportation in their midst, a new equilibrium will happen. The number of rides claimed by scooter companies is pretty phenomenal (see chart above). If data comes in that shows they are really taking a bite out of rideshares, and reducing car miles, and they manage to keep the sidewalks relatively clear moving forward (all big “ifs”) then scooters may become an important and mostly positive part of the transportation picture.

Or, as Malcolm Heinicke, vice chair of the SFMTA board concluded after yesterday’s vote: “Companies, scooter riders, staff, good luck. Let’s make this thing work.”

  • shamelessly

    I hope that a push to get scooter users off the sidewalk and into the streets will result in a new crop of activists advocating for safer streets.

  • mx

    I hope so. It could even be built into the scooter apps: “here’s the route you just took; if you think there should be a protected bike lane on this street, tap here to email your Supe/SFMTA board/etc…”

  • Cynara2

    I think walkers deserve safer sidewalks.

  • Cynara2

    You are utterly mistaken if you think walkers are going to ask for bike lanes because e scooters are on the sidewalk endangering us. The exact reverse will occur.

  • mx

    You think pedestrians (and I’ll note here that every single scooter user is also a pedestrian at some point or another) are going to ask for bike lanes to be removed because people are riding scooters on the sidewalk? That doesn’t make any sense at all.

    Surely if you don’t want people riding bikes and scooters on sidewalks (and I don’t either), you want to have more places for them to ride safely in the street, right?

  • Cynara2

    I did not say anything like what you are representing. It is not my job to figure out where you should go. It is your job to make sure that walkers ALWAYS have a safety zone. That is your job. It is not the job of walkers to safeguard anyone on a machine. Bike lanes do nothing to change cyclists’ attitude and behaviour toward walkers. You still go through the crosswalks and fly onto sidewalks for convenience.

  • murphstahoe

    you think you’re not wasting your breath with this troll?

  • Vooch

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/99fadaf88233f8563217c85434d85db514907833c4162a278c7106ccd748d1b4.png I think walkers should be asking for existing roadway space to be reallocated from cars to – dedicated bus lanes, protected bike lanes, and wider sidewalks

  • Vooch

    Err – neither scooters nor cyclists have ever killed a walker.

    unlike drivers – which kill walkers on sidewalks regularly. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e2b33022a37f2ca71f50c512cf4faea582f2dc779cbbacf20fb741ddecdf745c.jpg

  • Chairman Meow

    500 per operator sounds like an arbitrary and unjustified limit given that Bird, the least visible of the three companies here in SoMa, is already servicing 32000 riders with over 1600 units…

  • LazyReader

    Hilarious, California has some of the highest car taxes and regs in the books so they promote transit, transit’s too inconvenient so instead people skirt around it with a machine that can do 30 mph.

  • p_chazz

    Not true. In 2012 bicyclist Randolph Ang struck and killed pedestrian Dede Cherney and the following year bicyclist Chris Bucchere killed pedestrian Sutchi Hui.

  • crazyvag

    Aren’t arbitrary limits how residents got stuck with too few taxis 10 years ago?

  • Vooch

    So the ratio of people killed by cyclists versus killed by drivers is

    1:240,000.

    So drivers are 240,000 times more dangerous

    Drivers kill walkers every single day. and you need to go back 6 years for a cyclist incident

  • p_chazz

    I never said that bicyclists killing pedestrians was a frequent occurrence; only that your statement that “neither scooter nor cyclists have ever killed a walker” is untrue, which it is.

    In any event, the relative infrequency of pedestrian deaths under the wheels of a bicycle is cold comfort to the families of Sutchi Hui and Diane Cherney.

    I suggest that you do some research before making such sweeping statements in the future.

  • Vooch

    So you going to continue to promote hulking death machines responsible for killing at a rate 240,000 times more than bicycles ?

    If you were truly interested in safety; you’d be advocating for protected bike lanes & wider sidewalks

  • p_chazz

    I do not promote vehicles. As a matter of fact, I never learned to drive and I’m all for bike lanes and wider sidewalks. I am opposed to overheated rhetoric that labels vehicles as “hulking death machines”.

  • Vooch

    40,000 dead americans every year and their loved ones would tend to agree with my description as appropriate – Hulking Death Machines

  • p_chazz

    While it might make you and a coterie of activists feel better to refer to vehicles that way, if you are trying to make a persuasive argument, it just makes you sound sophomoric and easily dismissed as a hothead. The choice is yours!

  • p_chazz

    Six, count em’ six walkers sent to they hospital by hit and run bicyclist: https://www.hoodline.com/2018/05/bicyclist-injures-6-in-mid-market-collision-flees-scene

  • p_chazz
  • Vooch

    quite a few years ago

    versus 128 per day for hulking death machines

  • Vooch

    and on same day in SF – drivers hospitalized 750 San Franciscisns

  • p_chazz

    um, like to back that up with some facts?

  • Stuart

    “4 adults taken to Hospital with minor injuries, 2 additional patients treated and released on scene.”

    What does this have to do with pedestrian deaths again?

  • p_chazz

    May I remind you of Sutchi Hui and Dionne Cherney?

  • Stuart

    No need; someone like Cynara2 or one of RichLL’s account is usually there to bring it up in the comments every time a driver kills someone, so nobody could forget. (Oddly, they never seem to remember the names of all the people killed by drivers in the intervening years.)

    But I never claimed that cyclists have never killed anyone, or that they have never hurt anyone, so I have no idea what your point is in bringing them up in response to my comment. I just think bringing up six people sustaining minor injuries from a cyclist in a story about scooters, in a subthread about whether cyclists kill people, smacks of the same kind of anti-cyclist whataboutism.

  • p_chazz

    It wasn’t me who brought up bicyclists in a thread about scooters. That was Vooch who did make the remarkable (and false) claim that no scooter or bicyclist had ever killed a walker.

    I don’t think of myself as anti-bicyclist so much as I do pro pedestrian. Activists are always lumping bicyclists together when as far as I’m concerned they are just one more wheeled vehicle I have to look out for–on sidewalks no less! Now that really is adding insult to injury!

  • Stuart

    That was Vooch who did make the remarkable (and false) claim that no scooter or bicyclist had ever killed a walker.

    Right, and you corrected that 10 days ago with relevant information.

    But again, what does coming back to this thread now with an incident where people sustained minor injuries (which you did, not Vooch) have to do with correcting Vooch’s remarkable and false statement?

  • Stuart

    Vooch’s hyperbole aside, the fact that on average 2-3 people in SF are hit by drivers every day is still a sobering statistic.

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