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Electric Scooters Are Facing Difficulties to Flourish in San Francisco

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Crowded traffic. Loud noises. Colorful lights. Dusty Walls. At first, the streets of San Francisco are not that different from those of any other modern American city. However, if a new visitor is patient enough to stand by a street and watch the bikes, cars, and motors passing by, one would probably notice something abnormal. Where are the electric scooters that seem to be found everywhere else in the country?

A Phenomenal Fashion
First deployed by Bird, the first rental electric scooter company, at Santa Monica, Calif. in September 2017, electric scooters suddenly flourished across the continent in the last two years. By July 2019, there are more than a dozen companies that offer rental electric scooters in more than a hundred cities across the U.S., as the value of Bird just reached $2 billion this year, according to journalist Dan Primack from Axios.

“I think [the scooters] are awesome. I had a great time on one. It definitely is very convenient,” said John, a rider from San Diego, Calif. with a smile on his face,“There are so many of them, you can find one pretty much anywhere. The more there are, the more convenient they’re because they’re closer to you and then you can go where you need to go.”

Prohibition and the Pilot Program
This trend seemed unstoppable—only before it confronted the city of San Francisco.
As early as March 2018, top players in the industry like Bird and Lime started to distribute their scooters into the city. These dockless scooters quickly gained attention first but then were banned by the city due to lack of permits on June 4.

In August, San Francisco’s government passed a 12-month pilot program that allowed Scoot and Skip, two out of twelve applicants for the permit, to each deploy 625 scooters, declaring the return of scooters to the city. This number then doubled in this April, following requirements of a minimum percentage of low-income riders and locks of the scooters.

Reluctance to Adjust
However, electric scooters have still failed to gain the popularity they enjoyed in other cities. Between October 2018 and February 2019, as San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency reports, there were 242,398 electric scooter trips in San Francisco, a small amount if compared to 39 million around the nation.

Meanwhile, both Scoot and Skip seemed hesitant to expand their market-presence, as the number of scooters deployed stayed way below the limit of 625 until this March. Scoot’s CEO Michael Keating claimed that by November 2018, the company had “lost 200 vehicles to theft”, promoting them to scale back the number of its scooters.

Posted by SFMTA, the chart depicts how the number of scooters deployed by Scoot and Skip fluctuated from October 2018 to March 2019.

Safety concerns also arose. As of February 2019, there were 34 collisions and nearly 700 complaints of improper parking or riding reported by the two scooter companies in San Francisco alone. Nationally, the rate of accidents was even higher, as there have already been eight death reports due to scooter collisions.

“These scooters go faster than bikes, for example. Not to mention risk of traffic,” said Jon Heiselman, a tourist from Nashville, Tenn. “With any new technology there’s going to be civic adjustment in concern. I don’t think people have adjusted to dealing with scooters as often.”

Heiselman also suggests that people in San Francisco hold a lifestyle that is “more inclined to walk or travel by other means.” For him, the future of electric scooters might be uncertain since “there is a very good public transit here in the Bay Area.”

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Electric Scooters Are Facing Difficulties to Flourish in San Francisco