Scooter-share services returning to San Francisco, but Uber and Lyft blocked

San Francisco is getting its rental scooters back, but only two companies have been allowed to offer their services.

Scoot and Skip have been given the green light by city officials to return to the streets of San Francisco, while the likes of Uber-owned Jump, Lyft, Bird, and Lime will have to wait another day.

App-based dockless scooter services first trundled into the city in March 2018. But with no permit system in place, the sidewalks started to become clogged with electric two-wheelers from a growing number of companies. Safety concerns were also raised as some people rode them with little regard for pedestrians and road users. The San Francisco Municipal Transport Agency (SFMTA) stepped in and banned the scooters in June, asking providers to submit applications for a permit. Announced on Thursday, ten were denied, and only two were accepted.

Relative newcomers Scoot and Skip can restart their respective services on October 15 as part of a 12-month pilot program, with each company able to put as many 625 electric scooters back on the streets. If the initial rollout goes well, officials could increase the number to 1,250 scooters each. Up to five companies could have received permits on Thursday, August 30, suggesting more could be issued at a later date depending on the success of the initial trial.

The SFMTA said the cap would allow for a “thorough evaluation of the scooter sharing operating model in San Francisco, while minimizing the potential for sidewalk crowding and safety impacts during the pilot phase,” noting that from April 11 to May 23 alone, the city’s Customer Service Center received nearly 1,900 complaints regarding scooters blocking sidewalk access or being ridden unsafely, with city workers forced to impound 500 scooters that were improperly parked.

Praise for Scoot and Skip

The agency praised Scoot and Skip for the strength of their proposals while highlighting their experience of owning, operating, and maintaining a shared mobility service in public areas.

It singled out Scoot for demonstrating a strong commitment to safety, explaining that the company plans to “educate and train its users in safe scooter operations with mandatory instructional videos, helmets included in rentals, and free in-person trainings.”

Scoot’s model was also unique for its proposal to use swappable batteries instead of manually taking the scooters off the street for regular recharging. “This method could help the city reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled on San Francisco streets, which helps reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions,” the agency commented.

San Francisco’s decision is not only a snub to Bird and Lime — two of the biggest scooter-sharing services in the world — but will also come as a blow to the likes of Lyft and Uber, with the latter recently revealing ambitious plans to expand into both bike and scooter services in a bid to become an “urban mobility platform” offering multiple ways of navigating cities.

If the SFMTA’s actions are repeated by other cities looking to rein in two-wheeler rental services — many of which appear to have been operating with a “launch first, permission later” approach — there could be serious problems ahead for many of the companies currently jostling for position in this highly competitive market.

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