California leaders are in disagreement over how exactly to regulate the scores of electric scooters that have descended on San Francisco.
San Francisco city officials have quickly opted for regulation, voting to require scooter companies to obtain a permit before operating in the city. The City Attorney’s office has sent each of the three companies with scooters in the city — Bird, LimeBikes, and Spin — cease and desist orders warning them to curb reckless rider behavior. And authorities have already begun to impound scooters seen blocking sidewalks.
Meanwhile, a state-level bill that would put shared electric scooters in the same regulatory category as shared electric bikes has been introduced in the California State Assembly. The bill, which is backed by Bird, would allow scooters to be ridden on sidewalks unless local municipalities explicitly pass a law preventing it and only require riders under 18 to wear helmets.
On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to pass a resolution opposing that bill, claiming it would be a detriment to public safety. Under current law in San Francisco, riders of all ages have to wear helmets and it’s illegal to ride scooters on sidewalks.
“It is disturbing that the same companies and investors who have pledged to work with the City to respect California public safety and public realm laws are spending lobbying dollars in Sacramento to repeal them,” San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who has been leading the charge to regulate the scooters, told TechCrunch.
Confused by the backlash
All of the shared electric scooters work the same way. Using a smartphone app, city residents can reserve a nearby scooter, ride around on it for a small fee, and, at the end of the journey, leave the scooter anywhere to be claimed by the next rider. Unlike many bike-sharing programs, the scooters don’t need to be attached to a special dock, so riders can just hop off and walk away.The bill was introduced by Republican California Assemblyman Heath Flora, who represents the area near Modesto, California, which is about 90 miles away from San Francisco. None of the three scooter companies operate in Fora’s district.
Dylan Gray, Flora’s chief of staff, told Business Insider that Bird — one of the companies with scooters in the city — approached Flora’s office about possible regulation. He added that the bill is simply putting electric scooters in the same category as electric bikes, which only require riders under 18 to wear a helmet, and was genuinely confused with the backlash from San Francisco officials.
“From our standpoint, instead of having a patchwork of local governments trying to figure out how to legally classify these things, the bill just creates this baseline framework so no matter where you’re at in California, these scooters will be classified for legal reasons under the same category,” Gray said. “From that baseline, local governments can write their ordinances about them.”
For example, Gray said, in populated areas like San Francisco, local officials could pass a law that would prevent scooters from being ridden on sidewalks. But in less crowded areas of the state, Gray said, it might make sense to allow that.
In this way, the bill “empowers cities and municipalities in California to pass whatever rules are best for their communities including where to ride an e-scooter,” Kenneth Baer, a spokesman for Bird told Business Insider in a statement via email.
“The intent of the pending California legislation for e-scooters
is to bring e-scooters into parity with e-bikes,” Baer said. “… If there are language improvements to make it clear that cities should be able to set ridership rules, then we are open to that.”
Bird has been particularly vocal in it’s opposition to what the company sees as stifling local regulation. It launched without informing leaders in Santa Monica and was served with a criminal complaint after failing to obtain a permit. The company has also lobbied against a proposed cap on the number of scooters allowed in San Francisco.