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S.F. Scooter Startups Face Legal Roadblocks

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Technology that can help ease traffic congestion is normally a good thing. Trains, buses, carpooling, taxis, and ridesharing apps (in most cases) -- all good for our environment and commute times. But every now and then a transportation-sharing idea comes along that can cause more of a nuisance than it's worth. And motor scooters might just be that idea.

Anyone who lived in San Francisco through the first tech boom remembers sidewalks lousy with Razor scooters. But the scooter has grown up during the current tech resurgence: it's now motorized and shareable with an app, of course. And residents are sick of them all over again. Fortunately for them, the city just passed new regulations on electric stand-up scooters.

No More Scooting Around the Law

Almost as soon as scooter startups Bird, LimeBike, and Spin started depositing hundreds of shareable power scooters on San Francisco sidewalks, the complaints started pouring in to city hall. Residents blamed scooter users of speeding down sidewalks, leaving scooters unattended on walkways, and blocking ramps for seniors and disabled persons.

In response, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will now require all power scooter rental programs to file for permits, and allows the city to bill responsible parties for the cost of getting unattended scooters off city streets and sidewalks.

A City Imperiled

In lieu of the new permit requirements, City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent cease and desist letters to Bird, LimeBike, and Spin, calling their scooters a "public nuisance" and ordering them to "immediately cease unlawful conduct":

For instance, customers are driving the scooters on the sidewalk, imperiling pedestrians and themselves. Customers are also leaving scooters in the public right of way, creating falling hazards and impeding the safe use of sidewalks, access ramps, and other facilities that enable persons with disabilities and seniors to navigate this City ... And customers are riding the scooters without helmets, putting themselves at risk.

Bird, for its part, told Ars Technica the company is taking the "concerns and recommendations ... very seriously." "[S]tarting [Tuesday]," said spokesperson Kenneth Baer, "we will begin a pilot program in which all riders in San Francisco will be required to take a photo whenever they park their Bird at the end of a ride."

Spin spokesperson Rachel Starr echoed those sentiments to Courthouse News. "As the only San Francisco-based company offering scooter share," Starr said, "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."

The companies have until April 30 to formally address the letters from the city attorney.

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