SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Amid an onslaught of motor scooters zooming down sidewalks and cluttering walkways, San Francisco legislators on Tuesday voted unanimously to start regulating the latest gadget in transportation-sharing technology.
Over the last few months, three startups deposited hundreds of electric stand-up scooters in the city, which can be rented through a smartphone app for about $1 plus 15 cents a minute. The three companies – Bird, LimeBike and Spin – say the scooters help reduce traffic by allowing people to travel without taking cars.
But complaints started rolling into city hall about people speeding down sidewalks and leaving the scooters, which can be parked anywhere, unattended on walkways, sometimes blocking ramps reserved for seniors and disabled persons.
Under new rules approved Tuesday, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will start issuing permits for all power scooter rental programs. The ordinance also allows the city to seek civil penalties from “responsible parties” for up to twice the cost of removing and impounding unattended scooters that obstruct streets and sidewalks.
“In the ever-evolving brave new world of shared mobility technology, these scooters are certainly something that can in some cases help in San Francisco’s complex world of transportation challenges,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who authored the legislation, said Tuesday. “But that doesn’t mean we’re going to sacrifice people in wheelchairs and parents with strollers. [Sidewalks] are not the places where people going at 15 miles per hour should use those.”
On Monday, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent cease-and-desist letters to Bird, LimeBike and Spin, warning each company to stop operating “an unpermitted motorized scooter rental program” in the city.
Herrera accused the companies of violating numerous city and state laws that bar people from riding scooters without a helmet, traveling on sidewalks, and driving with passengers.
Leaving scooters unattended on streets and sidewalks also violates state law, Herrera said in the letter.
He asked each company to develop technology that would allow them to detect when a user is driving a scooter on a sidewalk and issue warnings or suspend or ban those who keep violating the law.
Herrera also asked the companies to require users to send photographs of their parked scooters to confirm they are not obstructing a public street or sidewalk.
A spokeswoman for the scooter start-up Spin said the company supports the new regulations and is committed to working with city officials to address San Francisco’s transportation challenges.
“As the only San Francisco-based company offering scooter share, it’s extremely important to us to continue working with the SFMTA, Board of Supervisors and community interest groups, such as Walk SF and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, to ensure that we’re addressing public concerns,” Spin spokeswoman Rachel Starr said in an email Tuesday.
Bird spokesman Kenneth Baer said the company launched a new pilot program Tuesday that will require users to take photos when they park their scooters at the end of rides.
“This will help Bird take action to ensure frequent violators of Bird’s parking rules are suspended or deactivated,” Baer said in an email. “We are confident that by continuing to work with the city, we can build a framework that can make San Francisco a leader in bringing new mobility options that curb traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.”
LimeBike did not respond to emails seeking comment Tuesday morning.
The city of Santa Monica sued Bird in December for illegally operating a scooter rental program in the city. The company paid more than $300,000 to settle the lawsuit in February, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.