In SF, Uber, Lyft and ten others vie for five electric scooter permits


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James Martin

The scooter war of attrition has begun in San Francisco.

Twelve companies — including Uber and Lyft — are vying for just five permits that would allow them to park their dockless, rentable, electric scooters on city streets, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

San Francisco officials passed a law in April limiting the number of scooters in the city. The law says that over the next year only five companies will get permits to put their scooters throughout the city. The number of scooters is also limited to 1,250 in the first six months. If that number of scooters works, the cap could increase to 2,500.

Scooters have become a divisive topic in the Bay Area. The hoopla began after three companies — Bird, Lime and Spin — unloaded their e-scooters in San Francisco in late March without any forewarning to lawmakers or residents. Almost instantly, hundreds of scooters swarmed the sidewalks.

Some locals rejoiced at being able to easily scoot block to block in the congested city. Other people complained that riders didn’t follow the laws of the road and endangered pedestrians by riding on sidewalks and leaving the scooters wherever they felt like it — blocking parking spots, bike racks and wheelchair accesses.

While the city is processing the permits, no company is allowed to have its scooters on city streets. If the companies don’t follow that rule, they could forfeit their chance for a permit. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which is issuing the permits, said it’ll likely take until the end of June to finalize the permits.

“San Francisco supports transportation innovation, but it cannot come at the price of public safety,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement in May. “This permit program represents a thoughtful, coordinated and effective approach to ensure that San Francisco strikes the right balance.”

To get the permits, each company has to demonstrate that it’ll provide user education on safe sidewalk riding and parking, be insured and have a privacy policy to safeguard users’ information. The companies also need to share trip data with the city and offer a plan for low-income riders.

Uber, Lyft, Bird, Lime, Spin and Scoot all confirmed they applied for the permit. The deadline to apply was Thursday. The other six companies — Razor, CycleHop, Uscooter, Ridecell, Ofo, Skip — didn’t immediately return requests for comment. The SFMTA also didn’t return a request for comment.

Of these 12 companies, only six are known to make or operate electric scooters — Bird, Lime, Spin, Uscooter, Skip and Razor. Scoot rents out motorized scooters that look like mopeds. Other companies, like Ofo and CycleHop, operate public bicycle rental programs. Lyft is rumored to be getting into bike rentals too with a possible acquisition of Motivate.

Uber applied for the San Francisco scooter permit under its dockless bike rental company, Jump. The ride-hailing service said it plans to offer electric scooters as part of its new direction to make Uber a complete transportation platform.

“Bikes, perhaps scooters. I wanna get the bus network on. I wanna get the BART, or the Metro, et cetera, onto Uber,” said Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi at Recode’s Code Conference last week. “So, any way for you to get from point A to B.”

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