The Great electric-scooter takeover of San Francisco

The Great electric-scooter takeover of San Francisco

Everything you need to know about the great electric-scooter takeover of San Francisco

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Do not ride on sidewalks, do not ride on sidewalks, do not ride on sidewalks

Lime scooter in the Tenderloin.
 Photos by Brock Keeling

No one, including you, looks smurfy riding a scooter after the age of 9. But that hasn’t stopped scores of companies from studding San Francisco sidewalks with an abundance of motorized scooters. Spin. Bird. LimeBike. Over the last two weeks, these cash-flush companies have offered up endless two-wheel transportation to the denizens of tech-stoked San Francisco.

In all, these companies have more than $200 million in funding. They’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

The advantages: a reduction in traffic and emissions, looks like loads of fun to use. The drawbacks: sidewalk congestion, corroded personal image in the community. But is an electric scooter right for you? Here are a few things to know before putting foot to two-wheel platform.

Are they legal?

Legal, yes. As of now, there are no rules in San Francisco regulating electric-scooter-sharing businesses.

Are they legal to ride on sidewalks?

No. Like bicycles, they are not permitted on sidewalks, according to transit code sec. 7.2.13. Alas, this has not stopped riders from abusing the leniency of this law. Sidewalks are for pedestrians.

Per the California Department of Motor Vehicles, “A motorized scooter may be operated on a bicycle path, trail or bikeway, but not on a sidewalk. On the roadway, it must be operated in the bicycle lane, if there is one. On roads without bicycle lanes, motorized scooters may operate where the speed limit is 25 mph or less, and shall be ridden as close to the right hand curb as possible, except to pass or turn left.”

It should be noted that non-motorized user-propelled vehicles (NUV), which are classified as different than electric scooters, may ride upon any business sidewalk within the city or any sidewalk “between the period commencing one-half hour after sunset and one-half hour before sunrise,” per transportation code 7.2.13. And electric personal assistive mobility devices (e.g., wheelchairs) are, of course, legal on all sidewalks.

Bird specimen. 
Photo by Brock Keeling

Are people riding them on sidewalks?

With impunity! Fury-inducing. Cities need to develop a multimodal lane for more than just bikes.

Fine, where can I ride them?

A bicycle path, trail, or bikeway. Also, Presidio Terrace has a fun loop.

Where are they docked?

Good heavens, everywhere and anywhere. Just look outside. Unlike most electric-bike-sharing cycles, the scooters don’t use docking stations. You can find them standing almost anywhere and in any neighborhood. Riders can lock the scooters anywhere on the sidewalk, which can impede wheelchairs, strollers, and the mobility-impaired.

How fast do they go?

Up to 15 mph.

How much do they cost?

Starting at $1 and up. Some rides cost only $2.

Do I have to download an app?

Yes. The app will guide your through the payment and undocking process.

Hey, you have to wear a helmet?

Yes. It’s the law. You need to wear a helmet while riding an electric scooter.

Keep these off sidewalks while using.
Keep these off sidewalks while using.

Are riders really wearing helmets?

No.

What about the scooters piling up like this?

Perish the thought, says scooter company Bird, which has pledged to do a daily pickup of abandoned bikes, “not increase the number of vehicles in a city unless they are being used on average at least three times per vehicle per day,” and “remit $1 per vehicle per day to the city in order to build more bike lanes and maintain shared infrastructure.”

The other companies have not yet signed this show of good faith/PR. There is a possibility that scooters will oversaturate city sidewalks, a la Mountain View and Google bikes. Time will tell.

What does SFMTA think of the scooters?

According to Wired, “The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency sent sternly worded letters to the three companies operating in its city, warning it would ‘not tolerate any business model that results in obstruction of the public right of way or poses a safety hazard.’” Draw from that what you will.

What do the San Francisco mayoral candidates think of the scooters?

Are they regulated?

Not yet. According to TechCrunch. SFMTA and city lawmakers are currently looking to form legislation to “create appropriate permits and requirements to regulate motorized scooter sharing in the public right-of-way.”

Regulation at this point is on a company-by-company basis. Euwyn Poon, president and co-founder, Spin, explains ”We reached out to the appropriate stakeholders before operating in San Francisco. After we solicited feedback and suggestions from them on piloting our scooters in a safe, responsible way, we began deploying small batches of scooters to test and collect data. Since then, we’ve been providing regular updates to and sharing data with SFMTA and other city stakeholders. As we introduce more scooters, we’ll continue what we’ve already been doing by involving SFMTA, MTC, and the Board of Supervisors each step of the way.”

Have any scooters ended up in the water yet?

Yes.

What’s the age limit?

Eighteen and older, please.

Will they catch on?

The odds are good. According to Curbed LA, “early reactions from riders suggest its catching on... [s]idewalks and side streets are filled with the scooters, since the dockless vehicles, locked and unlocked with an app, can be dropped off and picked up anywhere.”

But what about Jump bikes?

They, too, are everywhere. And like their scooter counterparts, they too are, mercifully, motorized. They fall under the same legality as bikes.

What about skateboards?

Update: Curbed SF reader bobics points out that electric skateboards (e.g. Boosted Board, OneWheel) fall under California’s AB-604, which allow these types of devices to ride on the sidewalk. “Electric scooters do not appear to be considered an ‘electrically motorized board.’” More information on skateboarders’ rights in SF.


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