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SF is cracking down on e-scooters, but some riders are uneasy about rolling alongside cars

The new Lime scooter, with a seat designed for people with mobility issues, rests near Mission and Second streets, in San Francisco on Jan. 7, 2020. | Yalonda M. James/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

San Francisco is finally getting serious about getting rental scooters off sidewalks. 

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who recently slammed the folks at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for “not stepping up their game” when it comes to enforcement, told The Standard he has at least 1,000 complaints sitting on his desk about the app-based two-wheelers. 

“They’ve been illegal on sidewalks since Day One,” Peskin said. “The issue is not whether they’re illegal or not. The issue is how you enforce that.”

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors offered some clarity on the question by unanimously voting to require e-scooter companies to install sidewalk-deterring technology on their vehicles. 

The resolution urges the SFMTA to better regulate the scooters, including by enforcing existing laws that make it illegal for riders to use e-scooters on the sidewalk, where they have harmed pedestrians. Though the companies have developed anti-sidewalk capabilities, Peskin said only a handful of the over 5,000 e-scooters in the city are equipped with the technology.

While some scooter companies welcomed the city’s new rules, riders who spoke to The Standard on Wednesday said they worry about the dangers of being relegated to the city’s streets. 

In May, e-scooter companies Bird, Lime and Spin held a demonstration of their sidewalk deterrent tech at Pier 32. Peskin said the scooters slowed gradually to decrease in speed to three miles per hour once their riders breached the sidewalk. 

Peskin went so far as to threaten SFMTA with consequences on unrelated issues if it doesn’t act on enforcing the anti-sidewalk tech. “Don’t be surprised when the Board of Supervisors starts saying no to various contracts that have nothing to do with scooters,” he warned. 

After the Board of Supervisors meeting earlier this week, Peskin said he got a call from SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin, who vowed to enforce the resolution.

On Wednesday, Peskin said he met with senior staff at SFMTA who said they will increase fines from around $150 to $500 per sidewalk violation, put more enforcement officers on the ground, and work toward banning e-scooters from the Embarcadero Promenade entirely.

Lime representatives said the company shares the city’s goal of ending sidewalk riding. 

“As a sign of our commitment, we are the only company to have agreed to pass on 50% of all fines arising from citations,” a spokesperson for Lime told The Standard in an email. “Our sidewalk-riding technology is already making progress and we will continue to fine-tune.”

George Kubai, who works in San Francisco and has used Lime scooters to get between various places in the city, including along the Embarcadero, isn’t quite sold on the idea of banning the two-wheelers from pedestrian rights-of-way. 

“Honestly, I feel safer on the sidewalk,” he said. “I usually use it on the sidewalk because, especially in San Francisco, I feel like riding on the street is a bit extreme. If the scooters stop working on the sidewalks, I can definitely see how that might be dangerous for some folks.”

David Ranshous—who uses Spin, Lime and Bird to navigate the city—said he also uses the e-scooters on the sidewalk for safety and could see how anti-sidewalk technology could be annoying in areas with few pedestrians.

“[Anti-sidewalk tech] seems somewhat reasonable, as long as it doesn’t cut the engine,” Ranshous told The Standard. “I consider myself safe, but I’ve seen plenty of people—maybe even myself when I wasn’t being careful—cutting pedestrians off or not slowing down around pedestrians.”

Peskin and others have little sympathy for those e-scooter riders who avoid the street for safety reasons.

“My reaction is: Take the bus,” Peskin said.

SFMTA, meanwhile, is exploring strategies for effectively keeping scooters off sidewalks, including enforcing the requirement that each device has a sticker that clearly states: “No Sidewalk Riding.”

“We’re also looking at a variety of other practices to ensure safety and compliance—including seeking no-riding and no-parking zones,” SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato told The Standard. “The SFMTA will be evaluating the program as a whole.”