Transportation Policy

San Francisco Continues to Give Middle Finger to E-Scooters, Rejects Permit Applications for Lime, Bird, Others

But the rest of the country is embracing the latest transportation craze.



San Francisco regulators have found a new way to signal their disdain for dockless e-scooters. Though its new permitting program can give up to five companies permission to operate in the city, the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Authority (SFMTA) issued just two permits yesterday. Ten other companies, including major players Bird and Lime, were rejected.

Bird and Lime, along with smaller outfit Spin, were the first companies to roll out their vehicles in San Francisco, debuting without official sanction in April. The city government responded by impounding the scooters and ordering the companies to cease operations until a regulatory framework could be established.

The new regulations required scooter companies to pay hefty application fees, meet various standards (such as enabling cash payments and making their apps multilingual), and craft detailed plans for how they were going to address such issues as sustainability, transportation equity, and labor relations.

The only enterprises whose applications met the city's approval are Scoot and Skip.

"Both companies submitted strong proposals with detailed, unique and innovative approaches that demonstrated the highest level of commitment to solving known challenges and concerns," reads SFMTA's statement on its decision. It adds that "no other applications substantially exceeded the agency's standards for operating a shared scooter pilot program."

Scoot impressed SFMTA with its requirement that riders watch mandatory training videos on how to use a scooter, as well as its proposal to swap out a depleted vehicle's batteries without taking the vehicle off the street. (Other companies planned on taking them in to recharge them overnight, a method SFMTA says will cause more greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion.) Skip won praise for agreeing to establish a community advisory board and to deploy 20 percent of its vehicles in the underserved southeastern portion of the city.

The total number of scooters will be limited to 1,250 scooters (625 apiece) when start up operations in October. This cap could be raised to 2,500 total scooters for all approved companies—if officials think things are going sufficiently well.

The rejected applicants have expressed a range reactions.

Lime says it will appeal. Bird is accepting the decision for the time being, saying it's disappointed but hopes to be allowed back into San Francisco when the pilot program is done.

Bird spokesman Kenneth Baer notes that playing keepaway with permits and imposing strict vehicle caps undermine the city's stated goals of increasing transportation options for low-income communities and cutting back on car travel.

"If you cap it, you'll never meet demand," he tells Reason. "Supply never meets demand. That means it's not reliable. That means people don't use it. That means it doesn't go to neighborhoods that need it most. Caps doom e-scooters to the fate of the Segway. It becomes a curiosity." E-scooters, he says, have to become normal before they become popular.

The rest of the country has been more welcoming of e-scooters. Despite headlines about these vehicles being thrown into the sea or smeared with feces, support for scooter services hovers around the 70 percent mark in most cities, according to a July 2018 survey. The one outlier was San Francisco, where only a slim majority (52 percent) approve of these scooters.

These friendly attitudes are increasingly reflected in cities' policies toward e-scooters. In the Bay Area, places like Santa Monica and Oakland are allowing more operators and adopting more flexible "utilization caps" on scooters that can rise with demand. Further north, Portland is allowing up to 2,500 scooters on its streets—a damn sight more generous than San Francisco when you consider how much larger San Francisco's population is—and has allowed three operators to set up shop so far. Dallas and Atlanta have adopted looser regulations still.

None of these cities has adopted a truly libertarian approach of allowing anyone who wants to launch a scooter service, but they have at least been willing to treat these companies as welcome innovators, not aggressive invaders. San Francisco's regulators should take note.

NEXT: A Young Mom Was Justified in a Shooting, but a Past Marijuana Charge Means Prison Time

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  1. support for scooter services hovers around the 70 percent mark in most cities

    This is not at all accurate. The survey polled people in “major cities,” and 70% of the total respondent base said they were positive on scooters. That doesn’t tell you anything about whether supporters were a majority in most of the cities where respondents were based.

    1. Ultimately, both Britschi’s and your point are irrelevant.

      If the scooters are popular, they’ll thrive. If they aren’t, they won’t.

      1. Markets, how do they work?

        1. With a lot of intervention from the state.

          1. You have been reported. The State does not appreciate your belittling retort and refusal to capitalize.

    2. Hey who lives in a big city and area these dumb pieces of trash lying around everywhere?

      I should take a libertarian approach to things that are annoying and throws these pieces of trash in a dumpster where they belong. Leave your trash everywhere then I can put it in a trash can.

  2. None of these cities has adopted a truly libertarian approach of allowing anyone who wants to launch a scooter service to leave their trash on other people’s property without getting permission first


    Doesn’t sound so libertarian anymore, does it?

    1. Who’s hit harder ? Mickey Ds or Starbucks?

      1. Brew Thru’s. You just can’t manage a cooler full of beer on a scooter.

    2. I know, horrible, right. You might have to step to the side to avoid a scooter at some point in your walk. While we’re at it, let’s get rid of all those people cluttering up your sidewalk too.

      For someone who is such a collectivist, you really don’t seem to like the consequences of being part of a crowd.

      1. I just like how everyone “wanted to be like Amsterdam” until they had the opportunity to actually become so. Now blue cities can’t run away fast enough.


          Amsterdam banned dockless bikes.

          1. You are 100% correct… or at least they’re tightening up their rules. Because while American politicians screamed incessantly that “We need to be more like Amsterdam”, Amsterdam is trying to be less like Amsterdam.

            Perhaps we should emulate Amsterdam after all.

            1. I do say this cracks me up:

              the only North American city on the Copenhagenize Index, announced that Bixi, the company that supplies its bike-sharing program, is bankrupt. The city, which is owed $34.5 million by Bixi, has taken over the operation of the popular program, after a $98 million bailout package it provided in 2011 failed to keep the firm afloat.

              It’s so popular, it was an epic failure.

              1. Entry failure is just a step along the road to success

    3. If someone dumps their scooter on my property, finder’s keepers.

      If I find a scooter on my property that I don’t want, I don’t whine to politicians, I just take what I can use and throw the rest in the trash.

      If renters discard scooters that way, the scooter company will go out of business.

      If the property is valuable enough, the scooter company will go after the renter who abandoned it.

      Freedom is pretty damned simple if left alone. It only gets complicated when governments “fix” it.

      1. The scooters are dumped on pubic property (mostly)

    4. People like you are frustrating because you refuse to think past your knee-jerk reaction. It really is simple — if the scooters had no value, the scooter company wouldn’t have any customers and wouldn’t be in business. If the scooters have value, someone will take care of them.

      If stupid people go into business renting out junk, they will have no customers and won’t stay in business long. If stupid customers throw away valuable property, the owners will come after them.

      It’s so fucking simple, this property thing. All you have to do is think for 3 seconds.

    5. I’m Cathy L and I demand everything be 100% resolved before anything is ever offered anywhere. That these dangerous cars, trains, plains, and boats still exist on this planet is a travesty and paramount to murder. I demand this because we all know that unless the central planner is able to restrict and control every aspect of research, production, testing, QA, deployment, and purchase (although it should be free) then the planet will literally blow up.

      1. She knows how dangerous a libertarian society would be.

    6. Haven’t you heard, Cathy? The internet is not safe to use anymore with Net Neutrality gone. Please take appropriate action to prevent any harm coming to you and log off the internet immediately, forever.

    7. Cathy L|8.31.18 @ 3:10PM|#
      “None of these cities has adopted a truly libertarian approach of allowing anyone who wants to launch a scooter service to leave their trash on other people’s property without getting permission first
      Doesn’t sound so libertarian anymore, does it?”

      If you are stupid enough to define a mode of transport as “trash”, that bullshit might make sense.

  3. Portland looks a whole lot worse when you compare its physical size with San Francisco’s.
    That’s at least as important as head count.

  4. They’re everywhere in MPLS-St.Paul. People are starting to do tricks while riding them.

    Gotta come up with a cooler name than ‘escooter’ though….

    1. You used to have to steal something in order to be able to afford to ride it like that. ‘Ride it like you rented it’.

    2. A lot of people are in for a rude shock come winter.
      Are they/will they be allowed on the skywalks?

      1. Nothing is allowed in the skyways. You can’t even take photos. They’re a de facto police state.

  5. Skip and Scoot sound like two companies I never want to do business with.

    1. Skip and Scoot was my nickname in high school. For real.

  6. You know, (and I’ll admit I’m sometimes slow to come to the obvious conclusion) but I’m wondering if these new revolutions in personal transportation that literally fit the stated goals of every city government: Get people out of their cars and onto bikes and walking– I wonder if the cities who’ve been calling for exactly this infrastructure are just pissed off because government isn’t running it.

    1. Actually, the claim that I read last week was that e-scooters are taking people out of buses. not cars.

      Sort of the same claim the anti-ride sharing folks are making… those who have cars continue to use them. Those who are using ride sharing or e-scooters were previously riding the bus. For them, it’s faster than buses.

  7. At least in San Francisco, the city stepped in because lots of people complained. I used them a couple times — to get back and forth to meet my wife at the $5 topless bar lunch buffet that’s just a little too far to walk.

    The commons, they are a tragedy.

    1. You call strippers your wife. Figures.

      1. And he eats at strip clubs.

        1. Spousal benefit

    2. Happy Chandler|8.31.18 @ 4:05PM|#
      “At least in San Francisco, the city stepped in because lots of people complained.”

      That would be you and two other assholes, right?

  8. Can you blame San Francisco. I mean think of all the flat tires you will get running over one of thousands of hypodermic needles.

    Also, consider what happens when you hit human excrement at 15 MPH. It’s sort of like the stuff hitting the fan.

  9. The aggressive invaders are not the vehicle companies.

  10. What I don’t understand is, if the city had no regulatory ordinances governing scooters, under what authority did they impound the ones used by Bird, Lime and Spin?

    US law operates on the principle that anything not explicitly forbidden is legal (with limits on what can be forbidden). This smacks of a diametrically opposed philosophy — anything not given explicit permission by Authority must be a crime.

    1. Hahahahaha.
      Law may operate that way in theory, but the opposite in practice.

  11. Unless it’s an “Uber” e scooter of course. Then no licensing is required.

    Seriously, I’ll support whatever keeps these ediots off the road. Hurtling down the road at 10mph sharing the lane with cement trucks at rush our is dangerous.

  12. Proggy
    A new urban transport concept

    Citizens will be assigned scores based on their oppressed victim intersectionality rank. Upon any encounter in a public space the citizen with the higher score can demand that the citizen with the lower score carry them to their destination, where they can release the carrier onto any convenient public space.

    SFC will love this, since it achieves racial, ethnic, and sex parity-plus, and eliminates CO2 (except for what the carrier wheezes out).

    Fund my startup!

  13. Is this CNN? That would explain the geography fail.

    Santa Monica is most assuredly not a Bay-Area city, although its politics are similar.

  14. Oh Californians. Will you ever stop voting like morons?

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