Editors: This letter from our Executive Director was originally published in Issue 165 of our quarterly Tube Times magazine, one of many perks of membership in the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Since it was published, SFMTA has issued permits, and Scoot and Skip have begun operating in San Francisco. If you have specific questions or issues regarding e-scooter share and biking, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Love them or hate them — and people have lots of opinions on the topic — shared electric scooters are returning to San Francisco’s streets. Many of you have asked what the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s position on e-scooters is, and it’s a timely question. We are thinking not just about e-scooters, but about what’s at stake for people who bike as our entire transportation landscape changes before our eyes.
When scooters first appeared, unpermitted, on San Francisco’s streets and sidewalks, we deferred to our friends at Walk SF and senior and disability advocates. These SF Bicycle Coalition allies had legitimate concerns about e-scooters creating safety problems on our city’s sidewalks. Under the California Vehicle Code, e-scooters and other “electrically motorized boards” belong in the street or in a bike lane. But if scooters (like bikes) shouldn’t be ridden on the sidewalk, what happens when folks on boards are suddenly sharing the bike lanes we’ve worked so hard to create?
I believe there are three broad standards that should be used when evaluating any new form of transportation. These apply to all existing types of vehicles and technologies, including autonomous vehicles, Transportation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft, and whatever new technology may cause additional challenges in the future.
Safety: Is it safe for all road users? New mobility technology and services must move us closer to achieving Vision Zero, and we should not compromise on this standard.
Sustainability: Does it reduce emissions? The ultimate sustainability goal for all modes of transportation should be fewer automobile trips.
Equity: Is it accessible and affordable? San Franciscans must not be further divided along lines of race, class, gender, and geography.
SFMTA announced that two companies, Scoot and Skip, will be permitted to launch a one-year pilot on October 15. It is possible for me to imagine companies operating in ways that score well by all three of these measures, but we will be watching carefully in order to hold Scoot, Skip and the SFMTA accountable.
As I look back on the past decade of bike advocacy in San Francisco, it’s clear that we didn’t fully anticipate or understand the impact of Uber, Lyft and related delivery services on the experience of biking. We stayed in our bike lane, minding our own business. Pretty soon we had lots of Uber and Lyft drivers illegally picking up and dropping off passengers and putting our safety at risk. We can’t make the same mistake and ignore scooters or autonomous vehicles. That means we will both advocate for regulation and work proactively with the companies that operate these services.
As we engage these companies, we will never compromise our values or mission. In many ways, e-scooter companies are potential allies. They have a clear business interest in seeing more protected bike lanes in San Francisco. Safety, real or perceived, is likely the biggest barrier they face to getting more people to use their product. People who bike and those invested in e-scooters both benefit from the same safety improvements to our streets, so we stand ready to collaborate when these companies make a genuine commitment to champion positive changes.
I’ve tried riding a scooter. It was fun. But I’ll still be riding my bike every day. Likewise, your San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s mission and values won’t change. We welcome scooter riders to join our organization and fight with us for the improvements that will benefit us all.