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San Francisco makes e-scooters permanent

“What are we doing to keep these off the sidewalks?”

Scoot Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

San Francisco’s pilot scooter program is a pilot no more, as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Board of Directors voted Tuesday to make e-scooters a permanent addition to city streets.

When the one-year pilot instituted last year expires on October 15, a permanent scooter program will replace it.

The text of the measure includes:

Amending the Transportation Code to modify existing Powered Scooter Share Permit Program requirements to, among other things, remove the limitations of the pilot program, authorize the Director to determine the appropriate number of permitted scooters and permittees, require that powered scooters have integrated lock-to devices, revise distribution and rebalancing requirements, update data sharing terms, adjust the permit fee schedule and endowment fund amounts.

This could mean a lot of new vehicles and new scooter companies around SF—and it could also mean new regulations on scooter-slinging operations.

Jason Hyde, the SFMTA planner who oversees the scooter pilot, told SFMTA directors Tuesday that the agency is mulling a variety of new rules, including requiring scooter purveyors to maintain a 24-hour call center for complaints, keeping a shared complaint database, and “alignment of fines and fees with stationless bikeshare.”

Hyde says that in the future the city, rather than the companies, will do more to decide in which areas of the city companies should make scooters available.

“We need to be more prescriptive about our service area [...to] prevent a clustering of devices downtown,” Hyde said Tuesday.

Presently, only 1,250 scooters are allowed on SF streets, all of them between two companies. Both the number of vehicles and companies could increase after October, but Hyde says there will still be “a limited number,” the total as yet to be determined.

“It’s likely the public is served better by a smaller rather than a larger number of operators,” SFMTA’s sustainability manager Tom McGuire told the board.

Some board members praised the results of the pilot, with Director Cheryl Brinkman noting that in Oakland “the scooter litter around some of the BART stations is breathtaking” compared to the city.

Brinkman added, “If we could have done the same thing for TNCs [we have for scooters], what a different world.”

Director Art Torres was more skeptical, asking, “What are we doing to keep these off the sidewalks?” calling that the number one public concern about scooter tech.

“Enforcement is always the key,” Torres added. “Be careful when you say you’re going to get this under control, because it hasn’t happened.”

Despite the misgivings, the vote carried 5-2.