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Banned Bird scooters return to San Francisco

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Scooter startup’s rental program skirts city rules

Bird scooters lined up on a sidewalk. Shutterstock

Santa Monica-based electronic scooter startup Bird is available in some 100 cities worldwide, but remains banned in San Francisco after City Hall brought down the hammer on the company—and its competitors, Lime and Spin—in reprisal for guerilla-style launch tactics in the spring of 2018.

Now Bird returns to perform another end-run on the rules with a new program that will put its scooters back on SF streets.

On Tuesday, Bird announced that riders in two cities—Barcelona and San Francisco—will be able to rent scooters on a monthly basis instead of the usual per-minute rate.

According to the company’s public announcement:

Available soon in San Francisco and Barcelona, people can open the Bird app and enter information such as where and when they would like their Bird delivered (home, work, or elsewhere).

After your order is placed, a Bird representative will follow up to confirm details and arrange for a personal Bird, charger, and lock to be delivered. When your rental period expires, Bird will come and pick up the vehicle, charger, and lock from your location.

[...] Affordable and reliable transportation is an issue challenging city residents everywhere. In San Francisco, it is especially out of reach for the most vulnerable members of the community.

The Bird rental page says that customers can rent in San Francisco for $24.99 per month; the company qualifies the offer as “landing soon” and has a waitlist for interested riders.

Under the rules of the city’s scooter pilot program, only two companies, Scoot and Skip, may operate on city byways.

However, the new Bird rental program skates by those rules, because renters will now store Bird’s scooters at their homes and the micromobility devices will not be available to rent on sidewalks. The only time people will see the scooters in public is when users are actively riding them.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose tells Curbed SF “we are going to get more details to determine whether or not it complies with existing regulation.”

Presently, the city allows two companies to rent 1,250 scooters on city streets. That number may double in coming months, but only if scooter companies can meet City Hall’s demands that it make scooters more widely available to low-income riders.

According to SFMTA’s “Powered Scooter Share Mid-Pilot Evaluation” report, public “complaints about sidewalk riding and improper storage were significantly reduced” after city regulation.

“Between October 15, 2018 and February 28, 2019, the SFMTA received 624 complaints of improperly parked scooters,” according to the report, whereas San Franciscans piled up “nearly 2,000 complaints [...] during a two month period in spring 2018.”

The transit agency also acknowledges that “demand for powered shared scooters is strong.”