SF Board of Supervisors approves ordinance requiring permits for e-scooters

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve new regulations on electric scooters.

The permit process was proposed by San Francisco supervisors as a way to regulate recently launched fleets of powered, dockless scooters.

Tuesday's vote was the first reading. There will be a second reading next week and the new regulations should be in place by May. 

On Monday, the Board of Supervisor's Land Use and Transportation Committee recommended that ordinance to be heard by the full Board of Supervisors following a lengthy public comment on the topic, which included city residents, walking and mobility advocates and scooter company representatives. Meanwhile, City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued cease-and-desist letter to the three scooter companies, Bird Rides, Spin and Lime Bike, in question. 

READ CITY'S CEASE-AND-DESIST LETTERS to Bird Rides, Spin and Lime Bike

The ordinance, sponsored by Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim, would establish a violation for any scooters that are part of a share program that 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.

According to Kim and Peskin, their offices have been flooded with hundreds of complaints from residents regarding discarded scooters on sidewalks and riders speeding on sidewalks after the companies, Lime, Bird, Spin, launched last month.

During Monday's Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting, Peskin accused the companies of deploying the scooters throughout the city ahead of the ordinance, which Peskin said the companies knew was already in works, and without effectively communicating the plans with city officials.

"I frankly find it to be offensive and arrogant," Peskin said.

"To say that you asked us for permission and implied we gave you that permission isn't the best way to build trust," Kim said, accusing Spin of implying in a letter that she gave them permission to place scooters in the South of Market neighborhood.

According to Jaime Parks with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the first scooter company to reach out to the SFMTA about a pilot scooter program was Spin, sometime during mid to late February. He said Lime then contacted them in early March about their pilot program. 

Parks said Bird contacted the SFMTA in March after its pilot program had already launched.

During the public comment portion, many residents said they were in favor of the scooters themselves but agreed that the powered vehicles need to be regulated and kept off sidewalks.

In addition, many people spoke in favor of San Francisco-based Spin for contracting with local residents to work as chargers, paying them anywhere between $5 and $15 to pick up scooters throughout the city and charge them at their homes overnight.

Parks said with the ordinance passing it would take one week to take effect. The permit system, however, wouldn't be ready until mid-May at the earliest, pending the creation of an online permit process.

Meanwhile, Oakland Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan proposed on Monday that her city adopt regulations to wrangle local dockless scooter and bicycle-share services.

Kaplan said the vehicles can benefit the community, but they can block wheelchairs and pedestrians, clutter sidewalks and become blight if  misused.