Permit system sought after dockless scooters on sidewalks draw residents' ire

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SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) San Francisco Supervisors and a pedestrian advocacy organization are taking action after three new dockless scooter companies that launched in San Francisco recently are facing criticism from residents who say the scooters are a public nuisance.

This week, Walk San Francisco sent a letter the scooter companies, Lime, Bird and Spin, urging them to work with the city's supervisors on a permit system and ensure that their riders do not ride on sidewalks or leave unattended scooters on sidewalks.

Although the companies, which operate through a mobile phone app, have let users know that riding on sidewalks is illegal, riders can regularly be seen using the motorized scooters on city sidewalks, which is prohibited by California Vehicle Code 21235. Also, because they're equipped with a GPS 
monitor, the scooters can be easily located but are often left on sidewalks, blocking pedestrian paths.

"San Francisco's sidewalks must remain a safe, protected space for people to walk. Suddenly, motorized vehicles are zooming along the sidewalks. 

That's unsafe and it's illegal," Jodie Medeiros, executive director of Walk SF, said in a statement.

"People walking on the sidewalk are getting hit by these scooters. The scooters are littering the sidewalks and creating hazards. We will not tolerate this," she said.

According to Medeiros, Walk SF has received numerous complaints about the scooters, including from a 63-year-old resident who said he was hospitalized after tripping over one blocking the sidewalk.

Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim have proposed an ordinance that would create a permit system for scooters and impose fines on noncompliant companies.

The ordinance would amend a section of the city's Transportation Code to establish a violation for any scooters that are part of a share program, which are parked, left standing or unattended on a city sidewalk, street or public right-of-way, unless the scooters are authorized with a permit from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Furthermore, the ordinance calls for allowing the Department of Public Works to remove scooters in violation.

The ordinance is expected to be heard at Monday's Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting, and may be heard by the full Board of Supervisors by the end of the month.

According to Walk SF, it is already working with the SFMTA to plan the proposed permit system.

"Supporting eco-friendly modes of transit is forward-thinking and necessary to relieve gridlock and reduce the number of cars on the roads. 

However, we must permit and approve e-scooter companies before they operate in San Francisco to ensure safety and good neighbor policies," Kim said in a statement. "We should remove these scooters immediately until we implement common-sense rules to keep people safe," she said.

"It's possible these new vehicles could become a valuable part of the transportation ecosystem in San Francisco, but the companies that are putting them on our streets and sidewalks need to prioritize public safety," Medeiros said. "The bottom line is, safety must come first."

In an email, Bird spokesman Kenneth Baer today said the company is open to working with supervisors on a permitting system that would allow them to continue operations in the city.

"The Board of Supervisors and Bird share the same goals: to reduce traffic and carbon emissions and help San Franciscans easily get around this great city," Baer said. "What is more important to remember is that Bird is following all the laws and regulations on the books to operate our business 
in San Francisco," he said.

Bird has also committed to helping out cities by starting the Save Our Sidewalks Pledge, in which Bird promises to pick up all vehicles on a nightly basis, refrain from adding more vehicles to a city unless the vehicles are being used more than three times per day and putting $1 per vehicle toward city governments for creating more bike lanes, maintaining roads and promoting safe riding.

Since Bird launched in San Francisco nearly two weeks ago, San Francisco users have logged in more than 50,000 miles, Baer said.

Venice-based Bird has also recently started operating in San Jose, Venice, Santa Monica, San Diego and Austin, Texas according to Baer.