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A dispatch from San Francisco’s scooter wars: It’s getting ugly

A dispatch from San Francisco’s scooter wars: It’s getting ugly
[Photo: TheDigitalWay/Pixabay]

We San Franciscans love to bitch and moan and argue about stuff–especially when it involves the impact of the tech industry on our fair city.

Our hot new debate topic: All these new app-based scooter rental services, three of which–Bird, Lime, and Spin–have launched here in just the last month or so. People are parking the electric scooters in the middle of our busy sidewalks when they’re done with them, blocking traffic. The “scooter buzz” is becoming a thing–like when riders silently approach you from behind on the sidewalk and then come within inches of you when they pass.

Some people are already so sick of them that they’re actually pushing them over. By state law, the scooters aren’t allowed on sidewalks, and riders are supposed to wear helmets. But that ruins the app-and-go effect of renting a scooter, which, by the way, can go up to 15 mph. And the truth is, the things are perfect for San Francisco (especially downtown) because we’ve only got 49 square miles of land here, and a scooter can take you almost anywhere for less money than an Uber.

The most visible of the scooter startups, Bird, went into a panic this week after our city commissioners passed a fairly hum-drum measure allowing them to regulate shared scooters and to remove them from the street if they don’t have a permit. Bird issued a press release saying a supervisory ban on scooters was imminent! An excerpt:

“It has come to our attention that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering banning Birds and other electric vehicles—and doing so via an extraordinary regulatory maneuver, usually reserved for emergencies like earthquakes.”

One supervisor’s response: Bird poop!  “Those people are out of their minds,” Aaron Peskin said from Southern California, where he’s attending a Coastal Commission meeting. “It’s amazing that a company with that kind of money would spread such misinformation.”

To cap its missive, Bird completely flew the coop, suggesting that democracy itself may rest on the handle bars of its scooters. “Listening to the people [Bird riders] is not only fundamental to democracy,” the company wrote, “but it is also how San Francisco works — and works best.”

I’ll keep watching the situation from my perch in downtown San Francisco, and I’ll squawk when the Scooter Riots begin.

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(Update: A Bird spokesperson says that while supervisor Peskin may not want a scooter ban, another supervisor, Jane Kim, has called for an immediate ban.)

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