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SFMTA head says scooters returning to SF

In letter to mayor, Reiskin pledges decision on permits next week

Uber To Partner With Electric Scooter Rental Company Lime In $335 Million Deal
A Lime scooter in LA.
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Even as SF-based electric scooter companies have expanded across the US with their app-enabled rental platform, the likes of Bird, Lime, and Spin have been left spinning their wheels at home.

At the beginning of July, SFTMA was expected to announce the outcome of a planned pilot program that would allow five out of a dozen possible companies to operate up to 2,500 scooters on SF streets for a year—1,250 for the first six months and the rest after that.

The July deadline came and went without any development, as did the entire month. Speaking to SFMTA’s Board of Directors weeks later, Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said that the department had gotten more applications than expected and predicted a decision in August.

Now August is almost over and streets are still scooter-free, presumably to the delight of many San Franciscans who never liked the new-fangled contraptions to begin with. The latest word in the great 2018 SF scooter war continued to be “limbo.”

Wednesday, in a letter to Mayor London Breed (responding to her withering criticisms earlier in the week), Reiskin announced a pending decision:

“We expect to announce the completion of the scooter permit review process next week,” Reiskin said. (The San Francisco Chronicle published the director’s full missive here.)

Reiskin added that “electric scooters represent uncharted territory for SFMTA” and promised Breed that the pilot program would allow the city to “evolve our approach.”

Last week, the Chronicle cited part of the permit application process that might prove troublesome for the most high-profile applicants, noting “past experience, including compliance with applicable laws,” as one of the qualifying criteria.

Photo by Rachid Jalayanadeja

Anonymous sources close to the process said this point was potentially worrisome for Lyft and Uber, which have longstanding conflicts with City Hall over their ride-hailing services, and also possibly for Spin, Bird, and Lime, the companies that started the scooter fracas by dumping their vehicles into the streets in April.

While the scooter rentals did not at the time violate any laws, the sneak attack approach to a product launch didn’t do much to win the hearts and minds of regulators either.

Seven other, lesser known companies are hoping to get a piece of the city’s two-wheeled action, and demerits for the five most high-profile players is a potentially encouraging mark for them. But that’s all speculation until next week.