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Electric scooters are getting closer to regulation in SF

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee has been working with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to develop a permit process to enable the SFMTA to regulate e-scooter share companies. Today, the Committee heard proposed legislation regarding permitting and enforcement of shared, electric scooter programs. The next step is for this to move forward to the Board of Supervisors for further consideration.

In the last month or so, three different scooter-share programs from Bird, LimeBike and Spin deployed their respective e-scooters without explicit permission. This has resulted in a number of scooters being left on the sidewalks and even on MUNI trains.

“I’m very annoyed with how these companies moved forward the last couple of weeks,” Supervisor Jane Kim, a sponsor of the legislation, said today.

The big takeaway from today is that all of these scooter companies jumped the gun pertaining to deployment in San Francisco.

“To say that you asked us for permission and implied we gave you that permission” before deploying the scooters, Supervisor Kim said, “isn’t the best way to build trust.”

Similar to what the city did around dockless bikes, the city is looking to do the same with dockless scooters. The idea isn’t to ban them, but rather to ensure there are rules and regulations around scooters, and that they don’t cause a public nuisance. If all goes according to plan, the SFMTA said it hopes to open up the permitting process May 1.

Earlier today, SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent cease-and-desist letters to all three of the companies, requesting a response by April 30. Although there is no proposed complete ban, it’s quite obvious that Supervisors Kim and Peskin are not happy with each respective startup’s approaches to launching their scooters in San Francisco without explicit permission.

“It’s clear that many of these companies continue to build corporate empires off of a basic premise — making massive profit always trumps protecting the public and innovation is only possible by cutting corners,” Peskin said.

In his opening remarks, Peskin also touched on how this is not emergency legislation, despite what Bird wanted some people to think. He also noted how he and other supervisors have received numerous complaints from the public about the recent proliferation of scooters.

Many of those comments were vocalized today. In the public comment portion, residents expressed concerns of these scooters taking up too much space on sidewalks, and becoming hazards to seniors and people with disabilities. On a couple of occasions, citizens also spoke to concerns of arrogance and elitism that e-scooters represent.

On the other side, members from a local community group in the Bayview neighborhood expressed how some of the companies, like Lime, are proactively working with their communities and even hiring community members to work for them.

Representatives from Lime, Spin and Bird also chimed in. LimeBike said its looks forward to “a fair and transparent process that balances the real and serious concerns of the public.” Spin similarly said it has no intention of doing anything that conflicts with any local or state laws. Bird, on the other hand, went a step further and asked for a window to continue operating while the city figures out its permitting process.

The proposed legislation looks to establish a violation for electric scooters left on sidewalks that do not have a proper permit from the SFMTA.

“With a permit, we would require the scooter share companies to educate their users on how to ride and park responsibly and hold the companies accountable to produce good behavior from their users,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told TechCrunch.

Here’s a key gist from the ordinance:

The proliferation of [Powered] Scooter Share Programs, which include motorized scooters that can be secured without being locked to a fixed object, has the potential to cause obstructions of public right-of-ways and, in the absence of sufficient education as to existing laws, cause a myriad of other safety hazards for both users of [Powered] Scooters as well as members of the public more generally. The Administrative Code defines a “public nuisance” as any “thing or condition, including but not limited to violations of the Municipal Code or State law, that threatens injury or damage to the health, safety, welfare, or property of members of the public, that obstructs the free use of property of others or of the public right-of-way or commons, or otherwise interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property

Following the public comment portion, the committee members had some specific questions for Bird and Spin. Supervisor Kim noted she’s seen several scooters that are tipped over.

“Within the first week, I had seen several that had been pushed over,” Kim said, adding that she’s concerned about safety and the long-term viability of the programs.

In response, Bird Director of Government Affairs Carl Hanson said the company can usually get someone out there within two hours, but Supervisor Kim said that’s too long. In response to a question about proper scooter parking, Hanson said Bird now requires users to take a picture at the end of the ride to prove the scooter is parked properly.

While the SFMTA aims to open up its permitting process early next month, Supervisor Kim said she doesn’t see this working unless docking is in place.

“I don’t think we can permit this until we figure out how to dock them,” Supervisor Kim said.

The SFMTA, however, said the onus is on the companies to ensure proper docking and that it’s willing to work with each company around that process.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Boosted Boards founders launch heavy-duty scooter renter Skip

All electric scooters are not created equal. I’ve found ones from Spin, Bird, and Lime to often be broken, shaky, or out of battery. But now the founders of Boosted Boards, which makes the steadiest and safest-feeling electric skateboards, are bringing their rugged hardware expertise to the scooter world. Today, they’re coming out of stealth with a supposedly stronger and longer-lasting dockless electric scooter rental startup called Skip. And the surprise is they’ll only operate where permitted unlike their backlashed competitors, with a deployment today in partnership with Washington D.C. and plans for San Francisco.

Formerly known by its Y Combinator codename Waybots, the company is exclusively announcing its funding and rebrand to Skip today on TechCrunch. The startup has raised a $6 million seed round led by Initialized Capital via Alexis Ohanian and Ronny Conway’s A Capital, with SV Angel joining in.

“We think the vehicle matters” Skip and former Boosted co-founder/CEO Sanjay Dastoor tells me. “It’s not the same as rideshare where two or more companies are all using the same car. There’s a big spectrum of quality in the base vehicles. A lot of these companies are buying off the shelf vehicles that are designed for personal ownership. I think these vehicles will need to be designed for a different level of use and upkeep.”

That’s why Skip is modifying bigger pre-made scooters to be more durable, and plans to build its own custom scooters. For the same $1 plus $0.15 per minute price as other services, you get a wider riding platform, full suspension, and head/tail/brake lights. The strategy is that if people feel safe and steady riding Skips, they’ll choose them over the competition. And while low-grade scooters might feel too unstable for the bike lane, leading to complaints about sidewalk riding, Skips are meant to feel secure enough to cruise next to cars.

With so much well-funded competition, Skip will have to hope customers really notice the difference. And its by-permit-only policy could constrain growth. But if riders and cities decide they want a more reliable scooter service, Skip could carve out a solid business while being a better citizen.

Trusting Your Life To A Startup

My Boosted Board was perhaps my favorite gadget ever. After a decade as an unpowered longboard rider, I tested its electric skateboard in 2012 and loved the smooth rides so much I bought onet of the first 10 of the Kickstarter. It felt like being able to effortlessly surf uphill. I tried many others and consistently found them to feel much more jerky, wobbly, and unpredictable. That’s not what you want when you’re riding a handle-less vehicle in traffic, and essentially betting your life on some startup’s hardware.

But then I crashed. The human body is not equipped for a 22mph meeting with the pavement. The board performed perfectly, I just hit a gravel patch at full-speed, shattered my ankle, and couldn’t walk for 5 months. In conclusion, even the safest electric skateboards are risky because at high speeds, the form factor’s small hard wheels are too vulnerable to obstructions, and you’ve got no handle to save you. I haven’t skated the two years since.

Yet that’s why I think Skip has a real opportunity. There’s demand for these vehicles. Skip says it sees seven rides per day per scooter. They’re a natural complement to more expensive Ubers that have to wade through traffic. But the whole industry will fall apart if everyone’s getting injured. You can absolutely feel the lack of stability and smoothness when riding a janky or half-broken scooter. I think consumers will choose the safer device if one’s available.

Skip To A New Startup

Skip co-founder and CEO Sanjay Dastoor

“We noticed that small personal portable electric vehicles weren’t only awesome alone” but as an option alongside ridesharing, ridepooling, and car ownership, says Dastoor. “The future of transportation is a combination of these.”

Boosted co-founder Matt Tran left the company two years ago, while Dastoor exited a year ago. They wanted to try an electric vehicle service model, but “Boosted wasn’t really the right place to do that, because the company is still focused on building great hardware for people to buy.” Tran was running marketing and also craved his engineering roots. So together with Mike Wadhera, a founding team member of Involver which sold to Oracle, they formed Waybots.

Last summer, the company tried out a docked scooter sharing model in SF, but didn’t see great results. When they got accepted to YC, like Boosted before it, they started experimenting with a dockless version. Meanwhile, Washington D.C. had opened a pilot program for permitted dockless bikeshare, and Waybots convinced the city to give it the greenlight too.

“We’re the first permitted [dockless electric scooter] system operating anywhere” Dastoor believes. “A lot of the story around dockless scooters has come from SF, and from companies that have launched without informing anyone or working with anyone.” That’s led SF to ban unpermitted dockless scooter rentals. “What we saw in DC was the opposite. We’re working with the cities to deploy, share data with them, and engage with the community, and we’ve seen none of the backlash that we’ve seen in SF.”

Designed To Deter Complaints

Beyond actually being permitted, that’s also because Skip has built the scooters to discourage a lot of the most annoying scooter behaviors. The Speedway Mini4 36V 21Ah scooters Skip modifies can get up to 30 miles at 10mph per charge, which means they’re less likely to have dead batteries by the afternoon like the useless vehicles-turned-paperweights from competitors that I commonly stumble across in SF.

The durable hardware is meant to need less service so you’re less likely to rent a broken, or worse, half-broken-but-I’m-late-so-I’ll-ride-it-anyway scooter. You can adjust the handlebar height, they go up to 18mph and dual-suspension flattens road bumps.

As for keeping Skips from getting strewn in the sidewalks and obstructing pedestrians, Dastoor claims his company’s vehicles have more precise location tracking than competitors. That could help it tell the edge of a build from the center of the walkway. Combined with requiring users to photograph the scooter standing upright, and hardware in the vechiles, Skip is hoping to force users to park them properly. “They have to have the intelligence in them to give info back to the city or back to the operator to make sure they operating correctly” Dastoor says.

Unfortunately, Skip hasn’t solved the lack of helmets problem. Dastoor tells me “We’ve been looking at a bunch of ways to improve access to helmets” but for now there’s no on-vehicle compartment for them and the company merely encourages users to wear them.

Personally, I think that’s crap. Sure, Citi Bike and other scooter companies don’t offer them either. But if these are meant to be serendipitously rented for short periods, it’s crazy to think anyone other than regular commuters will bring their own helmets. I think cities should demand them. And if they don’t, an inevitable scooter fatality that could have been prevented will make permitters more cautious. At least Skip says you have to be over 18 and plans to add ID verification for that soon.

“I don’t really have a comment about our unit economics” Dastoor sidestepped, but notes how much cheaper a $1.50 or $3 ride is than hailing a car. We’ll have to see if competition spurs a scooter price war. For now, though, the well-equipped Skips have led customers to “want to use it over and over.” Still, with Lime reportedly trying to raise $500 million and Bird recently closing $100 million as they race to invade the world, Skip is starting late with a much smaller piggybank.

Competition aside, Dastoor cites maintaining relationships with cities as the startup’s biggest threat. Luckily, he says it will soon announce some big-name talent with experience here. I expect it’s hired someone like former Uber policy chief David Plouffe who already has connections.

Scoot To The Future

Where the dockless vechicle rental market goes is a mystery. Maybe it turns into a fundraising war, with the most aggressive deployers locking up markets, and the losers vaporizing in giant money bonfires. Maybe the cities get fed up, kick out the unpermitted, and only issue approvals to those with the best glad-handing or the best safety. Maybe users get tons of options on price, quality, and availability to choose from.

But absent the bad behavior spurring backlash, many who try dockless electric scooter and bike rentals love them. With traffic-jammed city streets and scarce parking, we could use ways to get cars off the road.

Eventually, I think we’ll see a ton of short rideshare trips turn into scooter cruises. And at today’s super low price point, walking could turn into a luxury depending on how you value your time. Even at minimum wage, you might save money paying $1.75 for a five-minute, one-mile Skip rather than walking for 20. Dastoor concludes, “It becomes part of their transportation routine and I think anything that does that is around to stay.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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San Francisco will regulate electric scooter sharing

Electric push scooters have recently hit the streets of San Francisco. Over the last couple of weeks, LimeBike deployed some scooters in conjunction with local festivities in the city. And just yesterday, Bird launched its scooters in San Francisco. Spin has also deployed some scooters in the city. As it stands today, these scooters from companies like LimeBike, Spin and Bird are currently operating in a bit of a legal gray area.

That’s why the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is currently looking to create legislation, in collaboration with SF Supervisor Aaron Peskin, to “create appropriate permits and requirements to regulate motorized scooter sharing in the public right-of-way,” an SFMTA spokesperson told TechCrunch. “In the meantime, shared scooters are not explicitly covered in the Transportation Code.”

In separate letters to Spin, LimeBike and Bird today, the SFMTA let each company know it is aware they have respectively placed shared electric scooters on the sidewalks.

“As you may know, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is developing a permitting program for motorized scooter sharing systems,” SFMTA Director of Transportation Edward Reiskin wrote in the letter. “We request your cooperation as we finalize the legislation and permit application.”

The SFMTA is asking each company for their respective business plans, detailing how they will comply with the city’s requirements around the use of sidewalks, plazas and other public spaces. The SFMTA also wants the plans to describe if and how the scooters will use any bike racks or other existing infrastructure, if there will be any new types of infrastructure built, how it will ensure there’s not over-concentration of scooters in one area, how many scooters the companies plan to deploy and how the companies will ensure the scooters are maintained.

“We will not tolerate any business model that results in obstruction of the public right of way or poses a safety hazard,” Reiskin wrote.

Since these companies have already deployed their scooters, the SFMTA is asking to receive a response by the end of next week. While scooter sharing isn’t explicitly outlined in the city’s transportation code, it is illegal to place a scooter in a way that obstructs the sidewalk, the SFMTA spokesperson said. It’s also illegal to ride these scooters on sidewalks, and ride them without a helmet.

“The SFMTA would urge any potential operators of new transportation services to work closely with the SFMTA prior to launching a new program,” the spokesperson said. “While we welcome improved mobility options, we want to carefully consider the potential benefits and impacts of any new private transportation service to ensure that it serves the public interest.”

LimeBike, which unveiled its scooters last month, has been in communication with elected officials and the SFMTA, noting that there are no city ordinances that prohibit a shared scooter system in the city, a LimeBike spokesperson told TechCrunch. While the city works to regulate scooter sharing, LimeBike says it is a limited pop-up program.

“As a Bay Area headquartered company, LimeBike is fully committed to ensuring we are positive contributors to San Francisco,” the spokesperson said. “We are excited to continue working with the SFMTA, Board of Supervisors and community as the formal permit process is developed, to identify mobility solutions that meet the City’s equity goals and help connect all parts of the city.”

A JUMP bike alongside a Bird scooter in San Francisco

Earlier this year, the SFMTA granted an exclusive, 18-month permit to electric bike-sharing startup JUMP. The program is designed to enable the SFMTA to collect data and assess if a program like this will work in the long-term. Similar to what the SFMTA did around car sharing, the aim is to better understand the needs and impacts of this type of mobility service.

I’ve reached out to Spin and Bird and will update this story if I hear back.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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