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SFMTA passes 2,500 scooter cap

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One-year pilot program would limit permits to five companies

San Francisco Battles New Electric Scooter Rentals Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

San Francisco’s Great Scooter War of 2018 continues as the SFMTA Board unanimously voted in favor of rules that would cap the number of electronic scooters allowed on city streets as part of a one-year pilot program.

The city would allow a total of five companies to operate scooter rentals in San Francisco. For the first six months, only 1,250 scooters in total would be allowed citywide, with the figure doubling to 2,500 for the remainder of the year.

Companies like Bird, LimeBike, and Spin would also have to pay $25,000 plus a $5,000 application fee, and on top of that chip in $10,000 to an endowment fund that the city can draw on to cover hypothetical future fines.

In response to SFMTA’s 5-0 vote, Bird spokesperson Kenneth Baer said in an emailed statement:

“We applaud the SFMTA for acting quickly and collaboratively with many stakeholders in the community. Bird will be applying for a permit as soon as possible. We are concerned that the new cap on the number of vehicles will worsen transportation inequality and interrupt progress toward replacing car trips. We will work with SFMTA to establish rules and plans for safe operation.”

Scooter cap backers argue that a one-year test period with a limited number of vehicles is a reasonable way to test how the city’s infrastructure will adapt to this new element.

San Francisco Battles New Electric Scooter Rentals Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Note that under an earlier version of the cap rules, the city would have limited companies to 500 scooters apiece. Now the limit is 2,500 between every permitted company by the end of the year, which gives scooter purveyors more breathing room.

As of today, Bird, the largest of the three local scooter startups, alleges that it alone has more than 1,600 scooters working in the city, so the pilot would still represent a significant contraction.

SFMTA assembled the pilot at the behest of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which will itself have to vote on the regulatory frame before it goes into effect.