San Francisco Confiscating Electric Scooters, Fining Companies

electric scooter (Justin Sullivan / Getty)
Justin Sullivan / Getty

San Francisco police are issuing $125 tickets and confiscating electric scooters as the new transportation fad goes viral — and sparks complaints from angry local residents.

Chinese-made electric scooter sharing services have been popping up in cities across California, because of their supposed convenience in offering last-mile transportation.

But just three weeks ago, after the share services launched in San Francisco, the city’s Transportation and Land Use Committee voted unanimously to recommend a new ordinance for the city and county that would intensively regulate electric shooter ride share use after a barrage of pedestrian and sidewalk blockage complaints.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued cease-and-desist orders against start-up scooter share vendors Bird, LimeBike, and Spin, demanding the companies self-regulate by requiring customers to have a driver’s license, wear helmets, stay off of sidewalks, and not park in a manner that blocks ramps and bus stops.

Police report confiscating 66 scooters for lacking permits and for public nuisance violations. The scooter companies are being required to pay $125 fines and to agree to stop “endangering public health and safety.” contacted each of the scooter share services, who generally agreed to make sure their customers return the scooters to their designated drop-off points.

Spin’s Rachel Starr told SF Gate that it has been working with the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency since February and supports regulation: “As the only San Francisco-based company offering scooter share, it’s extremely important to us to continue working with the SFMTA, Board of Supervisors and community interest groups … to ensure that we’re addressing public concerns.”

Santa Monica-based Bird launched its service September 1 and the craze exploded across the west side of Los Angeles, as well as Venice and Santa Monica. But the dockless share technology that lets users stop, put down the kickstand, and walk away has caused an outcry from shopkeepers whose entrances are being blocked.

The City of Santa Monica filed criminal charges against Bird in December after the company racked up $6,000 in fines. Bird settled the dispute for over $300,000 and a commitment to “run a weeklong public safety education campaign on the Big Blue Bus.”

Santa Monica, which advertises as the ultimate “green city,” had at first supported electric scooter sharing as a zero-carbon and sustainable last-mile transportation solution for urban mobility. But after six months of turmoil and recriminations, city spokesperson Constance Farrell told the Curbed blog, “We’re supportive of… the concept of Bird. They just need to operate lawfully and safely.”

There is no public data regarding how many electric scooters Bird has been operating in its Los Angeles share pool, but Forbes estimated that the number is more than 1,000.

Bird claims to have over 40,000 active users and has spread to downtown San Francisco, Pacific Beach in San Diego, Brentwood in Los Angles, and college campuses. Despite the complaints and fines, Bird announced recently that it had raised $15 million in series A venture capital funding from a syndicate including Craft Ventures, Tusk Ventures, Valor, Lead Edge Capital, and Goldcrest Capital in February.

Bird founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden commented: “More riders are taking flight on Birds each day – on their way to work, lunch, the bus stop, or campus – because it is a safe, low-cost transportation solution for short trips around town. We look forward to bringing our Birds to new communities across the country.”


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