The Showdown Over Scooter Sharing

Ridesharing companies have been providing innovative transportation options for consumers for years now. Now, San Francisco and a number of other large U.S. cities have been the testing grounds in a new transportation solution – scooter sharing. Many companies see the electric scooter as a way to provide transit alternatives to consumers that also reduces emissions. Riders use services like Bird, LimeBike, and Spin reserve a scooter from a smartphone app, ride for a small fee, and leave the scooter anywhere at the end of their journey.

It’s that last aspect of scooter rentals that has some city governments and residents up in arms. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has been taking steps to introduce regulations for electric scooters, and on May 2, 2018 the SFMTA voted in favor of a rule that would limit the number of electronic scooters on the city’s streets.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the new regulations narrow the market, allowing a maximum of five rental scooter companies and a total of 1,250 scooters divided among those companies in the San Francisco area. After six months the city will allow for an additional 1,250 scooters. While some government officials and activists have taken aim at the scooter shares because of the perceived nuisance of scooters being left on the sidewalks and dodging around pedestrians, others are seeking to forestall this new industry for a different reason.

Joe Eskenazi of Mission Local said, “The business model of mostly every vehicle-sharing outfit leans heavily on harvesting user data. Scooters are no exception; an alarming amount of your information will be scraped out of your mobile phone or gleaned via your internet activity.”

Though the city has taken steps to limit the number of scooters, Jerri Diep, the organizer of a major transportation group in San Francisco, believes that 1,250 is too many. She stated “It’s just too much… They’re parking and riding on sidewalks and it’s very dangerous.”

Not everyone is quite so negative on scooter-sharing, however. An article in Condé Nast Traveler called scooters “the unlikely trend that’ll reshape the way we travel.” After Nashville, TN sent a cease-and-desist letter to scooter-sharing company Bird, a number of social media users responded with dismay:

Scooter-sharing – like the public and private bikeshare programs that have cropped up as well – has the potential to transform urban transportation, much like ridesharing in the form of Uber, Lyft, Via, and others has accomplished already. Time will tell whether municipalities allow these services to grow to their full potential, or whether they will put the brakes on them.

Photo Credit: Spin

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