San Francisco bridge

Angry San Franciscans launch dirty protest at ride-sharing electric scooters

Image credit: Dreamstime

The rollout of electric scooters-for-hire across the city of San Francisco has proved popular, but is also attracting anger and frustration from some locals due to the scooters' "dangerous" lack of regulation. This has led to some instances of vandalism.

Recently, three ride-sharing companies – Bird, Spin and LimeBike – have deployed fleets of electric scooters across San Francisco and other cities in California. The three companies state that they aim to solve the issues of traffic congestion, carbon emissions and lack of transportation options in cities. These scooters are intended to be used for short journeys that are nonetheless too long to be walked.

Users are required to download a company’s app, from which they can unlock a scooter by scanning a QR code and paying $1. They then pay a further $0.15 per minute to ride them. Unlike other sharing schemes, such as London’s Santander hire bikes, there are no docks for the scooters, meaning that they can be left anywhere once a ride is completed.

Since their deployment, the city has received numerous complaints about the scooters, and begun impounding scooters which are parked illegally. The unregulated rollout of the schemes has been described as a good idea poorly implemented, and an example of the ‘hubris’ of tech companies.

According to complaints, scooters have been illegally used on pavements and abandoned in inappropriate places, such as the middle of pavements or doorways, affecting accessibility. Some have described dangerous collisions, tripping over abandoned scooters and even broken toes. In response, frustrated locals have been leaving the scooters into trees, bins and water. Others have painted or stickered over the scooters’ QR codes or cut wires to prevent users from operating them. In one case, a scooter was defecated on.

According to a report by Motherboard, brake problems are among the most common problems with Bird scooters, with a single repair shop, SF Wheels, repairing 100-150 Bird scooters every day. Motherboard also reports that some users are ‘gaming’ Bird’s bounty system: a small bounty is offered to people who charge and replace scooters around the city over night. As bounties rise during times of short supply, some users have been hoarding scooters to reap a larger prize.

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Attorney’s Office issued a cease and desist order to Bird, Spin and LimeBike for their ‘dangerous’ and ‘unlawful’ operations, demanding that the companies take brisk steps to prevent misbehaviour, such as by preventing riders using scooters on pavements and setting out clear parking instructions. The local authority is in the process of introducing legislation which requires these companies to apply for a permit before resuming operations.

Meanwhile, Bird, which was founded by former Uber executive Travis VanderZanden [sic], is pushing for legislation making it legal for adults to ride electric scooters on pavements without a helmet, unless stated explicitly otherwise.

Residents of San Francisco have previously been left frustrated by the impact of Silicon Valley tech companies on their everyday business. In December 2017, heavy restrictions were placed on autonomous delivery robots, which had caused anger by travelling on pavements  In 2013, protestors angry at a perceived widening wealth divide in San Francisco detained tech giants’ private shuttle buses during the ‘Google bus protests’.

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