After more than two months of waiting, San Francisco has announced that only two scooter companies are allowed to return to the city: Scoot and Skip. The news comes as a rebuke to hometown ride-hail companies Uber and Lyft, which are both expanding beyond cars in an effort to become one-stop mobility shops. It’s also a snub to startups Bird and Lime, which are the two largest shared-scooter operators in the world; each is valued at over $1 billion.
Skip and Scoot are much smaller companies, but they will no doubt see a boost after winning permits for San Francisco. According to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), both companies will be allowed to operate a maximum of 625 scooters each for six months starting in October. After that, Scoot and Skip may be allowed to increase that number to 2,500 scooters each.
While no application was flawless, the SFMTA selected only the applicants with the strongest proposals for the one-year pilot program. Scoot and Skip put forth the strongest applications the SFMTA received.
Taken as a whole, Scoot and Skip’s applications demonstrated not only a commitment to meet the terms of the permit, but a high level of capability to operate a safe, equitable and accountable scooter share service.
In the end, the original decision by Bird and Lime (as well as startup Spin) to drop their scooters onto the city’s streets without permission may have ultimately done them in. The city notes that from April 11th to May 23rd, San Francisco’s 311 Customer Service Center received nearly 1,900 complaints regarding scooters. “Complaints ranged from scooters blocking sidewalk access to unsafe riding in the public right-of-way,” SFMTA says. “San Francisco Public Works had to impound more than 500 scooters that were blocking sidewalks or otherwise improperly parked.”
Further south in California, the city of Santa Monica also announced four permits for bikes and scooters: Bird, Lime, Lyft, and the Uber-owned Jump. The selection of Bird and Lime came as a bit of a surprise after the two companies scored poorly during the planning process. The four winning companies will be allowed to operate 750 devices each, totaling 1,000 e-bikes and 2,000 scooters. Bird and Lime have chosen to operate scooters only, while Jump and Lyft will split their total between bikes and scooters.
The announcements were hotly anticipated as cities across the country begin to write new rules to rein in the dockless scooter frenzy that has gripped much of America for the better part of the year. The scooters first arrived unannounced earlier this year in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Santa Monica. Since then, they’ve spread to scores of cities across the US, and have started appearing in Europe and the Middle East as well.
But rather than let them spread uninhibited, cities moved to crack down on the scooters by issuing cease and desist letters or simply ordering them off the streets until new regulations could be written.
Meanwhile, the hate and scorn has mostly died away, and many now realize that the scooters are an excellent avatar to discuss things like protected bike lanes, mobility, and livable streets. The scooters may never shake their reputation as the product of Silicon Valley’s tech-bro “move fast and break things” culture, but they’ve helped kick off a wider discussion about the need to get people out of cars and into more sustainable modes of transportation.