The scooters are everywhere. In front of my South of Market office, all over Golden Gate Park, on the corner of downtown intersections, and sometimes near, or sort of close to, bike racks and street signs. But most often, the electric scooters are dumped in the middle of the sidewalk.
It was fun when a few weeks ago three electric scooter-share companies descended onto San Francisco streets (and in other Bay Area cities). You’d spot a Bird there, a Spin there. A white-and-green LimeBike scooter would whiz past.
In the month since, the fun for pedestrians has faded. Maybe because they don’t get to enjoy moving around at 15 mph, but instead are tripping over the casually discarded vehicles. Even for riders the scooter-share concept is falling apart with broken, over-used scooters in what was recently described as a “nightmare” situation. Bird said San Franciscans scooted about 90,000 miles on the scooters since launching in March.
What makes the scooters appealing is its design. But it’s also its biggest problem. Without docks or locks, the scooters are easy to pick up and go with just an app download. It’s even easier to leave them anywhere and everywhere.
San Francisco has noticed and started impounding scooters blocking sidewalks, entryways, roads, and access points. On Monday afternoon, San Francisco city supervisors held a committee meeting about regulating the motorized scooters left on city streets. The City Attorney’s Office sent letters Monday to the three companies warning them to shape up.
The wild days of scooters everywhere look numbered.
A LimeBike spokesperson said in an email sent to Mashable about working with city officials on the overload of unwieldy scooters, “We look forward to a fair and transparent process that balances the use of the public sidewalk, with the many transportation and environmental benefits of electric scooters.”
Bird also said it is talking with city officials about what an e-scooter-filled San Francisco looks like. “We are confident that by continuing to work with the city, we can build a framework that can make San Francisco a leader in bringing new mobility options that curb traffic and greenhouse gas emissions,” Bird spokesperson Kenneth Baer said in an email sent to Mashable.
Spin in a statement said they supported legislation to reign in the scooters, “[We] are eager to continue the conversations around these regulations.”
LimeBike had pointed out that less than 1 percent of its scooter fleet has been vandalized or stolen — but that’s not really the point.
LimeBike’s loud warning, “Please unlock me to ride, or I’ll call the police,” may deter theft, but what does it do to keep the scooters out of the right-of-way? Or enforce proper riding with helmets and off the sidewalk? Not much. Same goes for its Spin and Bird competitors with its incessant beeping.
Local personality Broke-Ass Stuart’s website listed some (tongue-in-cheek) ideas to keep the scooter-riding public from behaving badly, like poop-cleaning duties for riding on sidewalks (the motorized scooters are only for road riding).
Bird crafted an SOS — Save Our Sidewalks — pledge, but it hasn’t caught on. It’s noticeable with all the scooter sidewalk litter. Instead, San Francisco and other cities are at risk of becoming a scooter version of China’s bicycle graveyards, the egregious aftermath from bike-share companies invading Chinese cities.
Spin CEO Euwyn Poon was notably not down to partner with Bird’s sidewalk-saving proposition. “Spin has always worked with cities, not against them, and will continue to focus on our own efforts in creating responsible and sustainable scooter and bike-share systems in conjunction with cities,” he wrote in a blog post last month.
The haphazard dumping of scooters needs a major overhaul that these companies aren’t about to work out amongst themselves. The first step is setting up designated places where the scooters can go. Randomly leaving scooters wherever you want doesn’t work — even the dockless bike-share Jump requires locking the bikes to racks. We need some order within the madness.
We should hail “chargers” like this person down in SoCal for taking so many scooters out of the way. It’s a step in the right direction and at least makes some space even if only for an overnight charging session.