Bring on the scooters.
After months of scooter-less streets in San Francisco, city transportation officials finally broke their silence Thursday to announce which electric scooter companies would be allowed to rent out the battery-powered vehicles.
Of the 12 companies that applied for a year-long pilot program in San Francisco, only two were selected: Skip and Scoot. The two companies are allotted 625 scooters each available to riders starting Oct. 15.
The final decision came as a bit of a surprise to some companies, seeing as the city originally said it could award up to five companies permits back in June. It comes off as a retaliatory move for Bird and Lime, scooter companies that came into the city early without collaborating with officials. Uber and Lyft were also vying for a spot in their hometown’s scooter program, but may have paid the price for its past transgressions when ride-hailing apps arrived in the city unannounced years ago.
Skip founder and CEO Sanjay Dastoor said in a phone call Thursday that his San Francisco-based company was likely chosen for its collaboration and communication with officials. “We’ve been focused on the very beginning with working with cities,” he said, adding that Skip’s approach has made their scooters’ arrival easier to handle. “You haven’t heard a lot of news about D.C. having scooter armageddon.” Currently, Skip’s scooters are only present in Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon.
Scoot — known for its electric mopeds that already operate in San Francisco — still had a section on its website Thursday about “staying tuned” for what they call “kick scooters'” arrival in the Golden Gate City. CEO Michael Keating said in a statement Thursday, “We are happy to offer San Franciscans another fast, fun, affordable way to get around, and we are honored by the City’s trust in us to manage this new mode of transportation.”
Rejected scooter company Bird — which had been in San Francisco from March through June, when the city cracked down against it and competitors Lime and Spin — said in a statement the company was “disappointed with today’s decision,” but plans to continue working with city officials and others, “in hopes of bringing Bird back to the City by the Bay.”
Lime took the permit denial as an affront to the locally-based company and San Francisco riders alike, who it says now won’t have a “seamless” travel experience. Toby Sun, Lime CEO and co-founder, said in an email statement that Lime plans to appeal the decision.
“San Franciscans deserve an equitable and transparent process when it comes to transportation and mobility. Instead, the SFMTA has selected inexperienced scooter operators that plan to learn on the job, at the expense of the public good,” Sun said.
Sun called out the San Francisco transportation agency for lacking transparency and running a “flawed permitting process.”
Santa Monica has a different idea
It was a different story in Santa Monica, however, where four companies got the green light to operate scooters in what’s become known as scooter ground zero.
It was uncertain if the hometown company Bird, recently valued at $2 billion, would make it through the selection process there, but on Thursday the city announced that Bird, Lime, Uber Jump, and Lyft would each be allowed to rent a 750 scooters each, for a total of 2,000 e-scooters.
Additionally, the city green-lit Jump and Lyft to roll out a fleet of 500 e-bikes each.
“The city’s decision to collaborate with Lyft deepens a partnership that will reduce vehicle congestion, increase public transportation trips and provide equitable transportation solutions to all residents of Santa Monica,” Caroline Samponaro, Lyft’s head of bike and scooter policy, said in an email statement.
In a separate statement, Travis VanderZanden, CEO of Bird, expressed his company’s willingness to collaborate with city officials: “We have a shared mission of reducing congestion and emissions, and look forward to continuing partnering with the City and to serve our community.”
A Lime spokesperson said, “Lime is thrilled and honored” to be included in the pilot and that the company is “grateful for Santa Monica’s transparent process and collaborative approach.”
The irony of the Santa Monica grouping is not lost to those following this story: Uber and Lyft once plowed their way into cities with their ride-hailing apps without asking for permission. Now, both companies seem to have learned lessons and are complying with city permitting departments by applying for access with their scooter projects.
Bird and Lime put up a heavy lobbying game in Santa Monica, and Bird went so far as to set up a government platform to provide tools for city officials to monitor scooter data, enforce geo-fencing limits for no-ride and no-parking zones, and provide feedback on rider education systems, and its efforts seem to have paid off.
Santa Monica’s “Shared Mobility Pilot Program” is set to kick off on Sept. 17 and will add to its already established Breeze bike share program.
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