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Beset By Homelessness, Rising Rents, Nightmarish Traffic, San Francisco Cracks Down on Dockless Scooters

Bay City residents, politicians should be more chill about electric scooters.

Eduardo Contreras/TNS/NewscomEduardo Contreras/TNS/NewscomI rode a rented, electric scooter to work this morning. On the sidewalk. Without a helmet.

Miraculously, I did not die. Nor did any pedestrians die. The forces of gentrification were neither spurred nor stalled by my ride. I was simply able to safely and uneventfully navigate to work around the morning crowd of walkers and joggers travelling along Washington D.C.'s Connecticut Ave.

For some strange reason, however, these new, seemingly innocuous "dockless" bikes and scooters—which can be rented via smartphone app—are stirring up controversy in cities across America. From St. Louis to Santa Monica, the vehicles have been labeled "hazardous," their users "very rude."

The strongest backlash is in the heart of the tech/transit capital of the world: San Francisco.

Bay City residents have lodged frequent complaints about the way these vehicles have been left strewn inconveniently on public rights-of-way or ridden on sidewalks—a prohibited activity in San Francisco—with many writing angry letters to city hall.

"Not only are they aesthetically egregious, taking up precious sidewalk space, the often reckless riders are a hazard to pedestrians," said one letter writer.

The electric scooters themselves are "designed to serve [sic] the same affluent tech population that has precipitated gentrification, displacement, land greed and loss of traditional hard-won culture," wrote another.

City officials, grappling unsuccessfully with persistent homelessness, skyrocketing rents, and nightmarish traffic, have been quick to prioritize the issue. Last week, City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent cease-and-desist letters to dockless scooter providers Bird, Spin, and LimeBike, lambasting them for operating an "unpermitted motorized scooter rental program" that was "creating a public nuisance on the City's streets and sidewalks and endangering public health and safety." This was followed by the impounding of some 335 such scooters by the city's Department of Public Works.

Then, last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (essentially the city council) passed an ordinance that requires these dockless scooter services be licensed and tasks the city's Metropolitan Transportation Agency (SFMTA) with crafting regulations on these scooters.

These regulations have yet to be released, but a draft outline suggests a whole host of new city-imposed burdens on electric scooters. Companies would be required to purchase a permit for every 500 scooters they have on the street. The application fee alone would be $5,000; the permit itself $25,000.

SFMTA's outline also included draft permit requirements, including not just user education about proper scooter usage and parking, but also some sort of low income plan, data sharing with the city, and the establishment of an "approved service area."

Companies would be fined $100 for each rider caught not wearing a helmet or improperly parking the scooters. Repeat violators would have their permits suspended or revoked.

Notably this would all be under a 24-month pilot program, which by SFTMA's own admission leaves open the possibility for a blanket ban.

"We may learn it's possible to make [the e-scooter rental industry] work in San Francisco. We may learn there's no way to make it work," SFMTA's Sustainable Street Director Tom Maguire told The San Francisco Examiner Tuesday.

Jack Song, a spokesperson for Limebike, said that he could not comment on SFMTA's impending regulations as they are still in draft form.

He did say however that his company—which has some 35,000 vehicles worldwide including about 200 scooters in San Francisco—sees dockless vehicles as a complement to a city obsessed with increasing bike and transit ridership.

"It could really provide a solution to that first and last mile problem," Song tells Reason. "Traditional station bike systems often cost up to $6,000 per bike to install and this is at the city's expense versus the dock-free business model which requires zero subsidy."

While these soon-to-be regulated entities have taken the hostility from city officials on the chin, some Bay Area commenters are rolling their eyes at the crackdown.

In a Monday column, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Heather Knight lambasted officials for focusing on the scooters, and not on the city's other, more pressing problems.

"The crisis they're concerned about is that three companies have dumped electric rental scooters around the city without permission," wrote Knight. "And the crisis we're concerned about is sidewalks covered with swelling tent camps, human feces, dirty needles and piles of trash." City residents have expressed similar attitudes on Twitter. In response, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the chief sponsor San Francisco's ordinance pertaining to scooters, assured Knight that he spent almost no time writing the legislation.

While San Francisco has given scooter companies the cold shoulder, other cities are proving more welcoming. Washington D.C., itself no free market paradise, has so far looked on the spread of dockless bikes and scooters with favor. Laws permit riding on sidewalks, and regulators have so far seemed open to the dockless bike and scooter services currently operating. Residents appear more open to the idea too. As of late February, the District Department of Transportation had received 247 emails supporting pilot dockless bikeshare services, compared to 81 opposed.

Their utility is another issue. My morning ride was more fun and faster than usual, but hardly worth (for me, at least) paying $3.45 for a 1.2-mile ride. Others of course may well find the scooters useful for short commutes or occasional joyrides. Cities should let riders figure that out for themselves without preemptively imposing heavy-handed regulations.

Photo Credit: Eduardo Contreras/TNS/Newscom

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  • BestUsedCarSales||

    So, I keep saying this, but I love that every Christian article is just shit talking at this point.

    His whole recent works are all basically, "Look at these fucking cunts." It's great.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I'd argue that's the proper role of libertarians in a bureaucracy-laden, authority-appealing, "someone orta do summat" society like what we have.

    Britches has really blossomed now that he's no longer obligated to provide Links to all of us commentariat jackasses. Was the tradeoff worth it? I don't know.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Is he our new JD Tuccille?

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    I agree -- we aren't going to change much if anything, and that will come from sarcasm infuriating the regulators into ever dumber regulating. They sure don't listen to facts or logic, and ridicule is more fun.

  • Longtobefree||

    "We may learn it's possible to make [the e-scooter rental industry] work in San Francisco. We may learn there's no way to make it work," SFMTA's Sustainable Street Director Tom Maguire told The San Francisco Examiner Tuesday.

    By 'work' the director means 'a huge revenue generator for the city'.

  • John||

    We may learn there's no way to make it work,

    That is government speak for "fuck you pay me".

  • Eidde||

    It's the customs officer saying "I don't know, this is a complicate situation..." and then standing around looking at you significantly.

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    Indeed, that is the reason for the Council's priorities. Confronting the homeless problems does not offer the ability to generate revenues and no homeless person has the cash to grease palms to make sure that their issues receive the Council's attention.

  • Tionico||

    We may learn there's no way to make it work," SFMTA's Sustainable Street Director Tom Maguire told The San Francisco Examiner

    This is a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever I've heard one. They've made up their whatever it is passes for their minds that it WILL NOT WORK, and will do whatever it takes to assure it won't.. starting with a $25K license fee for anyone to get beyond thinking about starting this business. If more than one entity ponies up the bribe, they'll get right on it and figure out what else to do to force it to fail.

    Any wagers at any odds whether the taxi mafia are behind the push against this?

  • John||

    The San Fransisco city government is totally okay with you living on the street, shiting everywhere like a dog, and spending your time begging, stealing and harassing people. Buy, you better not us an electric scooter or start a business without their permission. Then, shit is going to get serious real fast.

    This is what Progressive government looks like.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    San Francisco has the 'honor' of being a city that consistently smells like urine and poo.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    That's every large city that I've ever been to.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    San Diego, Oslo, Stockholm and many large cities don't smell like that.

    Plenty that do.....do though.

  • ||

    This is what Progressive government looks like.

    Oh, we've got both kinds of progressivism: 'destroy civilization to save civilization' and 'fuck human decency, that's why'.

  • Sevo||

    Even the Chron, for pete's sake, has been howling about the misplaced priorities.
    And this:
    "The electric scooters themselves are "designed to serve [sic] the same affluent tech population that has precipitated gentrification, displacement, land greed and loss of traditional hard-won culture,"
    Is enough smug/stupid to gag a maggot.

  • TuIpa||

    "The electric scooters themselves are "designed to serve [sic] [sic] the same affluent tech population that has precipitated gentrification, displacement, land greed and loss of traditional hard-won culture,"

    Shitting in the street and walking over bums passed out on the ground are culture.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Don't judge my art!

  • John||

    So poor people are too stupid to ride scooters? I would think cheap rental scooters would be something poor people would be more likely to use. Rich people have cars or take taxis.

  • Sevo||

    "So poor people are too stupid to ride scooters? I would think cheap rental scooters would be something poor people would be more likely to use."
    One of the proposed rules is that the scooters will have to be 'evenly spread throughout the city'.
    Well, fine. Those in Bayview/Hunters Point and Visitation Valley will have a life expectancy of, oh an hour or so before they are vandalized beyond use. So the poor will have scant chance to ride them.
    And certain other areas will have a demand such that the things will grow roots and flower.
    Put them where the demand is? What are you crazy? What good are regulations if you can do that?

  • Tionico||

    Remember the definitiion of FASCISM: government control of private means of production. San Francisco government hooh hahs are fascists.. they insist on controlling every aspect of what crudely passes for "life" in their turf. Somebody wanna provide a service? Well, alright, then, pay us a hundred times what we're worth for a Mama May I ticket to open up shop, then place all manner of restrictioins (rider no helmet pay us a C note) demands (even distribution, even of half will never be used where they are, thus subject to theft, vandalism, coopting, etc), and so on till no one could possibly make a profit, or even break even. What, are these business people stupid enough to lose money on the project? Hah, life would be simpler if they'd throw half of them in the Bay, then rent a U Haul and bring the other half to Las Vegas or Sacramento.

  • NoVaNick||

    They are not exactly cheap ( $3.45 for a 1.2-mile ride according to the writer, which can be a lot if you don't make much), and you have to have a smart phone to rent one.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    That sounds very capitalist for a liberal city.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    That liberal city is trying to destroy them.

  • Rhywun||

    If poor people used them in numbers, the complaint would be "look at what all the poors are reduced to".

    I doubt they were "designed" for it, but in all honestly I've only ever seen hipsters riding these things.

  • John||

    Only a hipster would have the required lack of dignity to ride an electric scooter.

  • David Ingresso||

    It looks like they really are trying to kill the city.

  • Hank Phillips||

    "Hello Haight-Ashbury, this is Mother." The City died the day that cheerful greeting was hauled away from FM radio.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The slow death of the progressive blue city... someone should write a book.

  • Eidde||

    ...or a library.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Lefties never visit those treasure troves of info to learn from their mistakes.

  • NoVaNick||

    Yes, if you choose to live in SF or the Bay Area, you consent to being constantly hectored by progressive nannies. They, in turn, are getting exactly what they deserve with a bunch of obnoxious techies zipping around on scooters that look like they were meant for 5 year olds.

  • John||

    But that is not how it is supposed to work. Don't you understand that? The nannies are supposed to harass brown people and deplorables, not the respectable white people who elected them. This isn't fair!!

  • MichaeI Hihn||

    These regulations have yet to be released, but a draft outline suggests a whole host of new city-imposed burdens on electric scooters. Companies would be required to purchase a permit for every 500 scooters they have on the street. The application fee alone would be $5,000; the permit itself $25,000.


    Look, in the interests of efficiency, let's just ban the economy. We'll all sit at home and play video games.

  • jelabarre||

    Look, in the interests of efficiency, let's just ban the economy. We'll all sit at home and play video games.

    Nah, not interested in video games (and I suck at them anyway). Would rather watch anime (I have about 30-40 years of back catalog to catch up on anyway).

  • loveconstitution1789||

    City officials, grappling unsuccessfully with persistent homelessness, skyrocketing rents, and nightmarish traffic, have been quick to prioritize the issue.

    "persistent homelessness": Stop giving away free shit to homeless people and they go to work, die, or leave the area.

    "skyrocketing rents": Let free market create new housing by removing nearly all zoning and government regulations to limit new housing.

    "nightmarish traffic": Build more roads, build more bridges, and make traffic flows more efficient. Traffic will also go down if more commuters can live near where they work.

  • JFree||

    "skyrocketing rents": Let free market create new housing by removing nearly all zoning and government regulations to limit new housing.

    Stupid libertarian morons when it comes to land. It ain't the regulations. It's the subsidized interest rates that are driving up the price of land - and low land taxes that are encouraging pure speculation.

  • Sevo||

    "Stupid libertarian morons when it comes to land. It ain't the regulations. It's the subsidized interest rates that are driving up the price of land - and low land taxes that are encouraging pure speculation."

    Re-trace your steps; your brain fell out before you got here.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    "Your brain fell out".

    Sevo, that was one of the best truths I have seen today.

  • Sevo||

    "Sevo, that was one of the best truths I have seen today."

    Gracias, but it was only that I was the first to wonder onto that idiocy.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I just will be borrowing that term from time to time.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    You can never have too many arrows in your non sequitur quiver.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Lots of empty houses in San Francisco just sitting around for them hundreds of thousands of pure speculators?

    As Sevo said, your brain fell out.

  • JFree||

    Well empty lots in SF are selling for $200/square foot. That is probably double the price of a decade ago (cuz interest rate subsidies) - and obviously it's an empty lot so the owner hasn't done shit except speculate on the price of land. With very little cost for sitting on the land because prop taxes in CA (unlike land taxes) are designed to encourage speculation and discourage development and discourage the market from transferring land to someone who will develop it - and that is because of Prop13 not some progressive thing.

    And at that price for land - there ain't no way anyone can develop anything except luxury apts/condos. Even if they WERE so inclined under Prop13.

  • JFree||

    There is a reason Houston doesn't have the same homeless problem or the same rent problem. It's because their prop tax doesn't have the same distortions as CA and its twice as high. So even though it's not a true land tax - it kind of functions like one (esp w no income tax - cuz prop tax raises enough). And because no one expects land prices to appreciate much, there is less interest in the sort of cronyist zoning regulations that speculating landowners expect as an additional subsidy.

  • JFree||

    Edit:

    Effective prop tax rates in Palo Alto are 0.42%(with huge variation depending on how long the current owner has owned). Houston averages about 1.81%(with very little variation). So more than 4x higher.

  • Sevo||

    JFree|4.26.18 @ 3:31PM|#
    "There is a reason Houston doesn't have the same homeless problem or the same rent problem. It's because their prop tax doesn't have the same distortions as CA and its twice as high."

    Here's JFree, who is effectively brainless, claiming CA taxes are TOO LOW!
    JFree, you win the ignoramus of the day award! Congratulations!
    Fuck off.

  • JFree||

    Amazingly TX and NH (another high prop tax state) are able to have lower overall taxes. Unlike you teat-sucking rentier CA assholes.

  • Tionico||

    the actual tax rate may be low.. but the properties are so artificially inflated the total tax paid for properties is amongst the highest in the nation. Friends live north of SF have a 35 year old dingbat tract home they bought for $129 late '70's and their prop tax runs about $6K per year based on selling price when they bought it new They'd like to downsize, but a bare minimum dunp anywhere within 20 miles of them would cost $400K and more, tripling their prop tax. Yes, they could sell theirs for enough to buy the smaller one cash out and put at least $200K in the bank.. but that would disappear in ten years for taxes. Then they'd be in the hole. BUT.. Calif have the hingest or nearly so sales tax on everything one buys, AND amongst the highest income tax in the nation. AND the state are going broke.. largely because of runaway union pensions for public employees... an unfunded debt that doubles every few years. ANYONE staying in that crazy state is either nuts, getting a free ride, has so much monty it doesn't matter, or is somehow trapped.

  • Tionico||

    land taxes in California are only cheap if you've had the property for a generation. If you paid anything near what it is worth today, your land taxes are amongst the highest in the nation. I do not include New York in that statement, though, as they are a separate country for all practical purposes. Learn about California's Prop 13.

  • JFree||

    Where do these get parked when they're not in use?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    If they parked them to block the homeless sleeping areas, it might solve two problems at a time.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Wherever the fuck.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    A lot depends on how you finish your ride. If you kick out with a switch stance stale fish, it's going to be problematic.

  • ||

    "A new committee, Vehicle division, Licensing, Inspection stickers and of course a tax to feed every level of absurdity should fix the issue appropriately." -- Statist J. Nannystein

  • Thomas O.||

    Dallas and the surrounding cities have welcomed the rent-a-bikes as far as I know. I see those things scattered everywhere.

  • Empress Trudy||

    At the Curbed website (part of Vox media) there are only 2 issues that San Franciscans care about: Getting bigger more expensive homes and second, the scourge of scooters which is literally destroying society.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Scourge of scooters was my nickname in playgroup

  • Bob Armstrong||

    Once my 33cc motorboard I rode to get around around Manhattan was confiscated for being a "non-conforming" vehicle . So I proposed some regulations to which it could conform : http://cosy.com/trnsprt/tsprtreg.htm .

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    "we have to regulate it to understand what's in it"

  • jelabarre||

    Of course they're concentrating on scooters rather than the homeless or trash problem. The latter two might take some effort and thinking, and that interferes with their golf game (or would it be handball or something equivalently poofter-like?)

  • Tionico||

    MammyFrisko strikes again. NOTHING goes on in that town without Mother May I Cards from the city Stupidvisors.

    I agree with banning them from sidewalks.... any wheeled device that does not require a walking speed human to propel it oughtn't be on the sidewalk. WHY? Extreme hazard to pedestrians. Walk out of a shop door and some fool flyhing yh on a bike/scooter/skateboard can take them to ground in a heartbeat. Some people simply don't fare well when up close and personal with flat concrete. So, yes, banish them from the sidewalk. Everyone is safer that way.
    Fining the scooter provider when the rider doesn't wear a breainbucket? Get real Nannies..... what bidniss is it of yourn whether anyone wears a bucket or not? Grow up and stop meddling.

    As to the licensing and permitting and crazy fees? Once more, grow up and get real. Consider the cost of the machines, logistics costs, processing, maintainance, loss/damage, etc, you add that much to the cost of running the business you might as well say you can't do it. WHO would pay five bux a mile for one of those silly things? At that rate, outright ownership would be a better financial investment.

    I guess the all knowing all controlling faction of Flim Flam Friskem's sorry excuse of a government has decided they simply do not want them within their city/county. Any bets on some connexion with the taxi business? Extreme pressure from them? Hunh?

  • Hank Phillips||

    The difference between government and criminals in a force-initiating mixed economy? Criminals kidnap your kids and hold them for ransom. Criminal governments holler "asset forfeiture" and abscond with your property. Those 30,000 car break-ins? SFPD fishing for probable cause to ticket, tow or confiscate a car, more'n likely. Scooters are bad because there are no windows for tough guys with immunity to smash in and make a point.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "Companies would be required to purchase a permit for every 500 scooters they have on the street. The application fee alone would be $5,000; the permit itself $25,000."

    It's always about the shakedown.

  • gaoxiaen||

    499's the magic number.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I wonder what it would take to force the courts to declare a local government null and void? 'x' years without a legal budget? Documentable failure to provide basic services? Would it in any way be possible. even theoretically, to go to court and get, say, the charter of the City of Detroit revoked?

  • Mark22||

    "We may learn it's possible to make [the e-scooter rental industry] work in San Francisco. We may learn there's no way to make it work," SFMTA's Sustainable Street Director Tom Maguire told The San Francisco Examiner Tuesday.

    It all depends on how well the city council members and union bosses get paid off.

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