SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved an ordinance requiring dockless scooter share companies to obtain permits for the powered vehicles before operating on city streets.

The ordinance was first introduced by Supervisor Aaron Peskin in early March ahead of the launch of three scooter companies Spin, LimeBike and Bird, which all began pilot programs later that month.

In recent weeks, however, several residents, organizations and city officials have spoken out against the electronic scooters, which are often used on city sidewalks and then left abandoned, blocking pedestrians’ paths.

“I’m frankly kind of amazed by the brouhaha that has ensued” Peskin said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Part of the brouhaha has been… that some of these companies have been a little bit fast and loose with the truth.”

“That this is a ban, that is not true,” Peskin said.

The ordinance, sponsored by Peskin and Supervisor Jane Kim, establishes a violation for any scooters that are part of a share program that are parked, left standing or unattended on a city sidewalk, street or public right-of-way, unless the scooters are authorized with a permit from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Furthermore, the ordinance calls for allowing the Department of Public Works to remove scooters in violation.

“These scooters are certainly something that could help, in some instances with some users, in San Francisco’s complex world of transportation challenges but that does not mean that we are going to sacrifice our sacred spaces that are our sidewalks, which are for pedestrians, people with wheelchairs, parents with strollers,” Peskin said.

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy said at Tuesday’s meeting, “I actually have ridden on one of these and they appear to be a practical solution for the last mile between transit and the destination. I think the way they’ve been rolled out has been disastrous; blocking sidewalks, riding on sidewalks and not wearing helmets. But properly used, they can really serve a real purpose,” he said.

Sheehy suggested more protected bike lanes and parking stations for the scooters be installed in order for them to function as viable alternatives to cars.

The ordinance moved to the Board of Supervisors after a lengthy meeting Monday at the Board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee, where Peskin and Kim grilled scooter company representatives over the scooters’ rollouts, which the supervisors said was ahead of the proposed permitting system which the companies knew was already in works and yet they failed to
effectively communicate their plans to city officials.

On Friday, the crews with the city’s Department of Public Works confiscated 66 electronic scooters from all three companies because they were blocking sidewalks, causing a public safety hazard.

According to the department spokeswoman Rachel Gordon, the department has received numerous complaints about the scooters in recent weeks.

On Monday, City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent cease and desist letters to the three scooter share companies. While noting that the companies had disregarded previous warnings, the letters demanded that they all stop operating unpermitted as the scooters are “creating a public nuisance on the city’s streets and sidewalks and endangering public health and safety.”

At Monday’s Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting, Jaime Parks with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said, pending Tuesday’s outcome, the new permit process for the companies would be available online but wouldn’t be ready until possibly mid May.

In a statement, LimeBike spokesman Joe Arellano said that the company is taking Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors vote and Monday’s cease and desist letter from Herrera seriously.

“In response, we are updating our current community outreach plan to address the city’s concerns about pedestrian safety, parking compliance and rider education. We plan to roll out new initiatives, along with our complete response to the city attorney by the end of the week,” according to LimeBike’s statement.

In the meantime, LimeBike says it will hand out helmets to users Sunday at their San Francisco headquarters, will develop a new feature on their app for riders to send a picture of their scooter at the end of their ride to ensure that it’s properly parked, and will ensure that users are aware that riding on or blocking sidewalks is illegal.

“We recognize that we can’t fix every concern overnight, but as a Bay Area company, we want to be lasting partners with the city and county of San Francisco,” the statement said.

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