Return of the Scooters

They're now permitted, but are they being parked properly? And are there enough to constitute a useful service?

Scooters on Market Street. Photo: Andy Bosselman
Scooters on Market Street. Photo: Andy Bosselman

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This week, Scooters returned to the streets of San Francisco.

As previously reported, only two companies–Scoot and Skip–were allowed to deploy scooters under SFMTA’s program. That means a total of 1,250 scooters are back on the streets of San Francisco, or 625 for each company.

“We are ready to extend our offering in San Francisco to provide another fun, fast, affordable way for citizens to get around. We look forward to continuing to partner with the City to responsibly manage this new mode of transportation,” said Scoot CEO Michael Keating in a prepared statement.

SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose had this to say:

The pilot is an opportunity for a thorough evaluation and monitoring of scooter share programs in San Francisco. Some of the things we will be evaluating: 1. Understanding safety impacts of scooters; 2. Assessing the impact of scooter share on the public right of way; 3. Evaluating the use of permitted scooter share systems to identify geographic and demographic gaps; 4. Understanding any unforeseen impacts of scooter operations on the communities they serve.

So how’s it going so far? Streetsblog would like to hear from readers, but here are a few initial impressions from advocates, rabble-rousers, and Streetsblog California editor Melanie Curry:

Scooters seemed to be scattered about more or less evenly but it remains to be seen if that continues. I rode a Scoot (my phone was dying and I couldn’t download the Skip app–long boring story) and it was terrifying. I was on Market Street, which admittedly can be scary anyway, but I ride my bike there all the time and feel more confident about moving through/around crazy car traffic and over potholes on my bike than on that tiny thing that goes fast without anything more than a push of my thumb. I sure wanted to get up on the sidewalk!!!

Sidewalk scooter riding was a big part of why pedestrian advocates first clashed with Bird, Lime, and Spin when they first launched in San Francisco in April, before a permit system was in place. All three companies have since removed their scooters from San Francisco, although they are now ubiquitous in Oakland and elsewhere in the Bay Area.

“I haven’t seen anyone riding on the sidewalk or parking badly (yet). This morning I saw a Skip that was tipped over, but I just stood it back up,” wrote Samir Lavingia, who IDs himself on Twitter as someone who just complains “about the Muni and lack of alternative transportation options.”

On the other hand, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that some bad scooter habits have already resurfaced, including the aforementioned sidewalk riding.

The always amusing Bob Gunderson had this reaction to a tweet from Supervisor Aaron Peskin about the permit program, sidewalk riding, and the scooter relaunch:

Of course, the best way to keep scooters off the sidewalks is to provide safe bike lanes so riders don’t feel as if they’re flirting with death when they go for a ride.

Scoot's instructions on where to park its kick scooters, from its app.
Scoot’s instructions on where to park its kick scooters, from its app. Wouldn’t it be nice if there really were bike lanes of the quality depicted in the app on every street?

In fact, many bike advocates see real potential for scooters to help in the effort to promote safe bike infrastructure–if they stick around. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Brian Wiedenmeier, in a recent post, echoed that hope: “People who bike and those invested in e-scooters both benefit from the same safety improvements to our streets, so we stand ready to collaborate when these companies make a genuine commitment to champion positive changes.”

As to parked scooters blocking sidewalks, Lavingia wrote that he blames the SFMTA for that. “We should be converting parking spaces into bike and scooter parking or creating specific parking zones (even if they are on the sidewalk). Asking users to park in the ‘furniture zone‘ is too nebulous.”

He added that:

In Singapore, the Land Transport Authority had this problem with bikes, and solved it by simply painting some yellow boxes. In Cincinnati, the local government was slow to act and an individual took it upon himself to create Bird Cages to solve the problem. I’m hoping that the SFMTA will do something similar instead of blaming the scooter companies or the users if/when complaints start to happen.

Others worried that the scooter cap is effectively preventing this new mobility choice from becoming a useful option in San Francisco.

Or, as Brad Williford, an advocate who is lobbying for a removal of caps and other restrictions on bike share, tweeted:

Bike and safe-streets advocate and Streetsblog contributor Kyle Grochmal went down to Market Street this morning and had this impression: “From my perspective, the e-scooters just aren’t being utilized much yet. During my time on Market, I saw ten bike shares, one personal e-scooter, and one Skip scooter. Maybe it’s because people weren’t expecting them or haven’t downloaded the apps yet. Maybe it’s because there are far fewer of them than when Bird, Lime, and Spin were around.”

Bikes still rule on Market Street, perhaps thanks to the cap on the number of scooters. Kyle Grochmal
Bikes, buses and trucks still ruled this morning on Market Street, perhaps thanks to the cap on the number of scooters. Photo: Kyle Grochmal

Are you using Scoot and Skip? Do you see scooters as a fad, a transformative mobility option, or something in the middle? What are your impressions of the SFMTA permit program and the re-launch? Post your thoughts below.

  • Daniel Michael Filipkowski

    Found this one today on Sutter Street near Powell. So far, all of the scooters I have seen have been properly parked in the “furnishing zone” of the sidewalks.

  • LazyReader

    Of all the crap to line san fran’s streets, a scooter is my least concern…

  • Stuart

    but are they being parked properly?

    Every day in the last week I’ve encountered either the sidewalk or the entire crosswalk (directly at the ramp, making it impossible for anyone in a wheelchair, pushing a stroller, etc. from getting around it) blocked by a parked car. Not even a temporarily stopped car, but an empty parked car.

    It’s as if the problem is that some people are jerks, rather than some intrinsic failing of scooters.

    All the media obsession with whether scooters are all being parked correctly, as if it should be an existential question for their existence, is the same kind of nonsense as people claiming that we shouldn’t have bike lanes unless all cyclists obey the law.

  • Trav

    Something I have observed with the scooters is that they do not actually go fast enough to keep up with bike lane traffic. Cyclists and other modes of e-transportation can be up to 10-15 MPH faster than a scooter’s top speed. So congestion in the bike lane has become worse, because everyone has to go around them.

  • the_greasybear

    I’ve experienced two sidewalk riding scooter scofflaws so far today, one of them going top speed on the Kearny St. sidewalk at rush hour , zigging and zagging, playing Frogger with pedestrians. I miss the scooter’s absence already.

  • the_greasybear

    A lot of the scooter riders clearly have zero experience using bike lanes in San Francisco–they hog up the entire right of way, riding straight down the middle, preventing anyone from getting around them in many stretches. That’s part of what is causing the increase in bicycle traffic congestion.

  • Bruce

    Many (read: most) bike lanes in San Francisco are in the door zone. If scooter riders hugged the right side they’d be at risk of getting doored.

  • mx

    That’s true, and I’d add that I feel way less stable on scooters than bikes, which means I’m super careful about potholes and manholes in the road that I wouldn’t think twice about taking at speed on a bike (yes, while being really aware of my surroundings to make sure I’m not turning into a cyclist if I swerve). I just ran over a small bump on a Skip, and while I managed not to fall, I definitely twisted my ankle in the rather undignified process that followed. (I also think Skip gave me the ride for free or maybe $1 because the app crashed weirdly, but I’m not sure.)

    In theory, the scooters are supposed to get up to 18mph, which should be pretty comparable to most bikes in normal city traffic, but the acceleration isn’t that fast, people are worried about falling, and they end up getting used slower.

    As a city, we do need to start thinking about bikeways instead of just bike lanes. As demand increases, we need more than just a lane on major corridors. That’s going to be a tough sell, but it’s worth looking at how that can be planned into designs like Market St. from the start, rather than locking us into a design that will be too narrow.