San Francisco

San Francisco Is About to Let Electric Scooters Back on the Streets. But One Scooter Company Isn't Happy.

Scooter giant Lime claims the city's permitting process was biased and arbitrary.


Benoit Tessier/REUTERS/Newscom

After months of hostility, harassment, and the outright seizure of their vehicles by city officials, San Francisco may finally allow dockless electric scooter companies back onto city streets. Come Monday, SFMTA—the city's transit agency—plans to allow local scooter start-ups Scoot and Skip to begin operations in the city once again under heavily-conditioned circumstances.

Threatening the return of scooter service however is none other than scooter giant Lime, which was denied a permit and is now suing the city, claiming the process by which these permits were awarded was biased.

"Lime believes that after selecting two other less experienced electric scooter companies and comparatively weaker applications in a process that was riddled with bias, the SFMTA should revisit the decision and employ a fair selection process," said the company in a statement.

Lime had been one of the initial companies to drop its scooters on San Francisco's streets back in March 2018, along with other early entrants Bird and Spin, and thus was on the receiving end of San Francisco's early efforts to quash their permissionless innovation.

Despite their being no prohibition on these dockless e-scooters at the time, San Francisco officials took the view that they were public nuisances, impounding over 500 of the vehicles (including 130 from Lime alone) and sending cease-and-desist letters to the three companies.

What followed was a months-long process by which city hall and SFMTA cobbled together a pilot program that would issue permits to five companies and allow up to 2,500 scooters back onto city streets. At the time Lime, agreed to comply with the new regulations, and along with eleven other scooter companies, applied for a permit.

When permits were finally issued at the end of August, the city inexplicably decided to award them to only two companies—the aforementioned Scoot and Skip—and allow them to only deploy 1,250 scooters.

Neither Lime, nor Bird or Spin, were given permits, in what the company is now claiming is an attempt to unfairly penalize them for operating a lawful, but not explicitly-allowed transit service.

"SFMTA's development of the pilot program and permitting process was biased and flawed from the outset, and aimed to punish companies that lawfully deployed scooters earlier this year," said Lime.

All companies applying for permits to operate in San Francisco were evaluated on a number of categories, including safety, community outreach, plans for low-income and disabled access, and crucially each company's "experience and qualifications" operating scooter programs.

Lime, Bird, and Spin—the three companies to put vehicles out on the street before the city's big scooter crackdown—were all given a 'poor' grade for this last metric, with SFMTA officials claiming that their jumping the gun on providing scooter service meant these companies could not be trusted to follow city regulations going forward.

Also downgraded in this category was ride-sharing company Lyft, a new player in the scooter market, who—despite never having deployed a single scooter on San Francisco's streets—was dinged for the traffic violations its drivers had racked up over the years.

Lyft has also raised complaints about the arbitrary and biased nature of San Francisco's scooter permitting process. In a late September letter sent to San Francisco Mayor London Breed and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, Lyft President John Zimmer claimed that initial analysis by city staff ranked his company's application higher, but was then downgraded when the final analysis was released.

"The fact that the final result differed substantially from the initial analysis is indicative of a larger frustration with the process. Scoring criteria was not published in advance, and the scoring analysis that was released afterwards was not tied to the requirements set forth in [permit program regulation]" wrote Zimmer. "This led to what appears to be more arbitrary and inconsistent scoring results."

Zimmer's letter asks the city to reconsider granting only two permits. Lime is going further, demanding that all scooter operations be halted until a fairer appraisal of its application can be conducted.

San Francisco city officials have so far shrugged off Lime's lawsuit, telling the company to work within the system, which they insist was totally above board.

"The SFMTA's permitting process for the pilot program was thoughtful, fair and transparent. It includes an appeal process that Lime should be pursuing instead of wasting everyone's resources by running to court," said City Attorney spokesperson John Cote to the San Francisco Examiner.

While one can quibble with Lime's attempt to temporarily stop scooters' return to San Francisco, one can hardly blame them for not trusting the official appeals process given the continual hostility of city government to scooters.

Indeed, SFMTA's refusal to even issue the maximum number of permits allowed by law shows the degree to which San Francisco officials see e-scooter companies, not as valuable partners offering an innovative new service, but instead as hostile invaders that must be kept at bay.

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  1. Clearly, Lime did not read the minimum campaign contribution clause in the permitting process.

    1. Or, even better, Lime could have approached city hall before dropping scooters on the streets, and let the mayor announce that city council had a brilliant new idea for an innovative solution to the traffic problem.

    1. There was this swipe at Lime in an earlier article today on straw banning:

      “The point I tried to make was we don’t know whether we’re going to be dealing with an innocent vendor who gives out one straw, or we’re going to have Lime Bikes dumping 10,000 straws,” said Calonne at Tuesday’s city council meeting.”

      Lime is the official bad guy / punching bag all because of this Scott Kubly?

      1. No, my gripe is my own personal snark. I’m guessing Lime bike is a punching bag for many reasons at least in San Francisco. I’m further guessing people in San Francisco have no idea who Scott Kubly is.

        1. Lime says it plans to ask the Superior Court of California to temporarily halt scooter permits in a filing Friday. It will then be up to the court to weigh the merits of Lime’s case before potentially delaying the city’s planned scooter program.

          “If Lime succeeds, it will be hurting the very people it purports to want to help ?- those who are ready to use scooters on Monday,” Cot? said.

          Lime has repeatedly said it is one of the largest and most experienced companies in the industry, and therefore equipped to provide the best service. “Fundamentally we think we’re the best operator, and we think we should be operating in this city,” said Scott Kubly, chief programs officer for Lime. “I think there’s a level of urgency that we have as a company around the mission that we serve: We’re taking cars off the road.”

        2. From the linked article:

          “It also underscores how high the stakes are in the ongoing struggle over who has the right to use public streets and how.”

          People will fight over obtaining benefits from the use of something that’s paid for by others? Who’da thunk it?

          1. The streets are not so much the problem in DC. Rather, it’s the sidewalks, where people ride motorized scooters at top speed among pedestrians. Ditto motorized bicycles. These are motorized vehicles. Ride them in the street where they belong.

            1. Since I’m a powerfully built guy with real solid mass, I can easily clothesline those motherfuckers with no real risk of injuring myself.

              Always so tempting.

              1. Let’s hope it’s George Zimmerman and he caps your ass!

            2. How fast do these scooters actually go? Are they actually casual bicycle speed? I wouldn’t have thought they are faster than a fast walking ped.

              Wouldn’t surprise me that the people riding them are assholes – but afaics the only real issue that they have is that they are peds who require parking spaces. And cities only do parking spaces for cars (not bikes or peds). And the scooter companies are clearly not doing parking spaces.

            3. Then bikes should stay off the streets. Can your ass peddle 30 mph?

  2. Permit the outfit with the least experience, they fail, withdraw permits, no more scooters on the streets. Mission accomplished.

  3. I don’t know why anyone lives there.

    1. In my experience, lots of people do it because they’ve been sold on the idea that “life in the Big City” is super awesome. It then takes a couple of years oftentimes to realize that “life in the Big City” is super awesome if you’re spectacularly rich. If you’re not, it sucks balls.

      1. Life everywhere is super awesome if you’re spectacularly rich. A big mansion, supermodels working for you as sexual servants. A private jet, any cars you want, etc. is generally fucking amaze balls.

  4. I wouldn’t use a scooter or walk in the streets of San Francisco due to the turd epidemic there.…..em/566621/…..lity-homel

    San Francisco = Shitsville, USA.

    1. For the same reason, I wouldn’t want to run or invest in a business that relied on scooters being able to effectively move around in San Francisco. I’d happily find a cleaner city that’s also less openly hostile to innovation.

    2. San Francisco- “We don’t give a shit, we take ’em- wherever.”

    3. Look on the bright side. SF’s coprolith-covered sidewalks and streets may encourage the development of flying cars.

  5. OK, the scooters were here, That ignoramus Cathy L claimed they were trash, but if so trash moves you down the street/sidewalk well.
    As it turns out the district Supes weren’t getting the baksheesh they expected and decided to play favorites.
    The scooter companies lacking guanxi griped.
    There are no good guys, but there are a bunch of bad guys.

    1. They’re very popular in Spokane now. Hose fucking things are even cerywhere. The bikes too.

  6. After months of hostility, harassment, and the outright seizure of their vehicles by city officials…

    How are city officials expected to treat people who litter all over the city and endanger pedestrians and automobile drivers alike?

  7. Motorized scooters shouldn’t be driven on the sidewalks, this sometimes causes some real issues. They are motorized so they should be driven on the streets.

    James David

    1. That’s just stupid. It ain’t the motor. It’s the velocity and the size of the thing moving. Those ALWAYS need to be on separate paths. Three ‘paths’ works very well – one for peds, one for bikes (which can also do mopeds but not Harleys), one for cars. Unfortunately US cities are entirely car-focused (or bigger since the public teat-sucker unions only give a damn about buses/rail) – and you see the entire thing fail at intersections of the three.

      Maybe the scooters are too fast for peds on sidewalks. idk. In which case, they are screwed because the US doesn’t do bikes well AT ALL. But ain’t no way scooters are going at 30+ mph.

  8. I’ve been spending the past few weeks in Paris, where scooters are very popular. They’re everywhere. Something new I’ve also seen here are Vespa-style scooters using the same model–find one with your phone, ride it wherever, leave it parked on the street. But one thing I’ve really been aware of as I walk around Paris is how many motor scooters (including lots of the Piaggio three-wheelers–MP3) there are here–way more than bicycles.

    1. Bicycles shouldn’t be on the streets. The only place for bicycles is on bike paths or on suburban cul de sacs for kids.

      Otherwise just use the stationary bikes at the gym.

  9. All companies applying for permits to operate in San Francisco were evaluated on a number of categories, including safety, community outreach, plans for low-income and disabled access, and crucially each company’s “experience and qualifications” operating scooter programs.

    Looking at that process/application, I can see why SF is such a clusterfuck and will remain one forever. And it’s not really about the bureaucracy of the permitting itself. It’s that that bureaucracy doesn’t have a single question that actually deals with how scooters will fit into the overall city transport/mobility system – short-term or long-term. They have no goal at all. Nothing on the issue of parking/docking long-term – nothing on how they will play with other modes of transport. Just a bunch of political glad-handing bullshit – and presumably the bribe at the end.

    Why any company would locate in that shithole is a mystery to me

  10. How fast do these scooters go? And, more importantly, how good are they a dodging the ubiquitous piles of human feces? Could be dicey hitting a steaming pile at 30mph.

    1. You just have to get mudflaps for the wheels. Though the ground clearance might be problematic for the more elephantine agglomerations.

  11. So, Force = Mass Times Acceleration?

  12. Deck size of a razor electric scooter 26.2″x8″ =1.45 sq feet, round to 1.5 for wheels and handlebars. The scooter actually takes up more usable space because they aren’t leaning up against private property and people aren’t going to get too close. Put an approximately 4 inch buffer around the scooter and call it an approximate doubling of space taken. As the scooters are often placed in pathways were people walk, this is a very very conservative estimate. More than likely there will be considerably more unused space as people walk around them. Still lets’ just say 3 square feet. 2500 scooter. 7500 square feet of San Francisco public real estate the companies are squatting on. Completely unscientific look on Zillow at prices of undeveloped lots in San Francisco. Prices vary from approximate $130 to $1200 a square foot. Between $975,000 and $9 million in real estate minimum. Consider that the scooters are more likely to be left in high tourism, and more costly, areas and the that the amount of space relative to traffic flows is much larger, sorry if I have no sympathy for these companies squatting on public land and whining about regulation. If we are going to deregulate, we should deregulate the destruction of these when inconsiderate asshat customers invariably place them on private property, or in obvious rights of way for traffic.

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