San Francisco is drowning in electric scooters. Will permits help?

bird e scooter los angeles times
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is looking to issue electric scooter permits by next month — but can that save a city already overrun with personal transportation devices?

Employees of the agency have been reviewing applications, and are planning to make recommendations in the next few weeks. So if you’ve been hoping for an increase in the number of two-wheeled transportation options to get you around the Bay Area, this may be the moment you’ve been hoping for. Giants like Lyft hope for just that; the company’s plans to enter the ride sharing market were revealed in May.

But the decision to require and issue permits comes late for the city of San Francisco. Bird, Spin, and LimeBike have been offering scooter ride sharing programs for months, resulting in an explosion in the number of e-scooters around town. The inundation of electric scooters meant too many vehicles on streets and sidewalks, and in April, San Francisco told the three companies they would have to remove their scooters from public areas. Not long thereafter, San Francisco opened up a permit application process in an attempt to control the burgeoning fleets.

Companies that want to offer electric scooter rides around the city will now have to submit applications; the first wave was due June 7, and the SFMTA is reviewing the 12 applications it received. Companies and their scooters will be assessed based on safety, sustainability, access, accountability, financial impact, and other key metrics. All told, up to five companies will ultimately be chosen to take part in a year-long pilot program, which will seek to more holistically determine the scooters and their effects on the local community.

Among the five companies ultimately chosen, a total of 1,250 may be allowed to take riders from Point A to Point B in the first six months of the trial. If this proves successful, San Francisco could grant privileges to another 1,250 e-scooters.

Given that San Francisco has never issued these sorts of permits, the city will have to work closely with the selected scooter-sharing companies to concretize the permit terms and conditions. And come August, those permits should be out and about — and so too should be legal e-scooters.


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