Controversial scooters whiz by on San Francisco streets, city wants to hold companies accountable

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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors said on April 24, 2018 that any company operating shared, powered scooters must have a permit from the SFMTA to park their scooters on sidewalks or other public spaces.

The hot trend of motorized electric standup scooters are quickly attracting fans and foes on the busy streets and sidewalks of San Francisco. 

Some love them; others say they are a nuisance and a hazard. And the city is working on guidelines that would crack down on companies that rent them if their customers don't abide by the law.

Along the Embarcadero, a KTVU crew saw many people riding them despite the fact that they're riding on sidewalks which is illegal according to state law.
Three scooter companies launched in recent weeks and they’re now easier than ever to rent. Riders use a phone app to unlock the scooter for a flat rate of $1 and they pay 15 cents per minute . 

"It's cheaper and faster to get around," said Ryan Kennedy, who says he started riding them last week.

Scooter fans say it's less expensive than using rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, and quicker because they can zip around traffic congestion. But  pedestrians say they're a hazard. 
"They go by...zoom,” said Tom Johnson, a pedestrian. “These things are way too fast.”  The 72 -year- old says he's already had several close calls walking to work near the waterfront. "They just come in between you, on the side of you and keep going.  They don't stop at stop signs.  They don't stop at nothing.  How are you going to walk down the street?" he asked.  

State law prohibits people from riding them on sidewalks and they must wear a helmet. But a KTVU crew saw many who did not heed either guideline, zooming around at speeds of up to 15 mph. People have taken photos of scooters obstructing walkways and sent their complaints to city officials.

"I've gotten upwards of a hundred (complaints), which is quite a lot," says San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin. He says he first introduced legislation to authorize SFMTA to come up with a permitting process last month. But he says the three companies launched their scooter rentals before that happened. 

"Rather than asking for permission, knowing that we're on the eve of passing legislation, they're asking for forgiveness," said Peskin.

The three companies, including San Francisco-based Spin, say they are working with the city. 
In a written statement, Spin said in part, "We understand the importance of addressing valuable concerns from the community around safety and appropriate usage of scooters."

 A spokesman for SFMTA says the permitting process will hold the scooter companies accountable if guidelines are not followed.  That would be fines and if necessary, scooters may be confiscated. 

City officials hope to have the permitting process in place by the middle of May.