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SF may double the number of e-scooters on city streets

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But only if scooter companies can prove that they’re serving more low-income communities, as pilot program rolls on

A red Scoot scooter tied to a bike rack on Market Street. Courtesy Scoot

Electric scooter startups Skip and Scoot are chasing after low-income riders after the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) told both companies to expand participation in discount-fare programs if they want the chance to expand their SF fleets.

Six months have passed since the city permitted just 1,250 scooters on the streets under a 12-month pilot program last year.

The city now has the option of doubling the number of scooters allowed. On Monday, the San Francisco Examiner reported that SFMTA wants Scoot and Skip to reach out to low-income customers more before it authorizes expansion.

Out of tens of thousands of SF riders, the Examiner says just 146—68 from Scoot, 78 from Skip—use the companies’ discount programs, and scooter users are primarily white men making at least $100,000 per year according to demographic data.

Increasing transit availability to normally underserved communities is a big part of scooter companies’ pitch for cities like SF to let them roll with minimal regulation. Purveyors of app-enabled bikes and similar vehicles often complain that it’s difficult to expand into neighborhoods without extensive transit infrastructure.

On Tuesday, Skip spokesperson Nicole Danser told Curbed SF that the company has increased its discount program to 118 riders in San Francisco.

“One of the ways Skip does this is through events like Sunday Streets, which we attended last weekend in the Tenderloin and will be attending for the entire 2019 season, including next month in Bayview,” added Danser.

Scoot spokesperson Jasmine Wallsmith says that the competing company also relies on venues like Sunday Streets and on college campuses to reach lower income riders and claims that it’s “already seeing an uptick in signups” (although the company did not provide a number) and predicts that it will be able to match SFMTA’s demands.

Scoot offers rides at half off the normal rate—50 cents initially and then seven cents per minute—to riders ”who are enrolled in low-income programs such as EBT, discounted utility services or any other state or federally-run assistance programs, [...] pre-approved community-based organizations (CBOs), non-profits, students, and teachers.”

Skip offers a similar deal for any riders who are also enrolled in Cal Fresh, MTA lifeline, PG&E CARE, or Golden State Advantage.

No matter what happens, the city has made it clear that only Skip or Scoot will benefit from an expansion of the scooter program. Other scooter providers (i.e., Lime, Bird) are still curbed on SF streets a year after their very unexpected rollout.