Uber, Lyft, Lime, Bird, others locked out

“Scoot and Skip” may sound like the names of cartoon characters — talking mice, perhaps — but they’re not. Rather, they’re the big winners of San Francisco’s Golden Ticket e-scooter permitting process, and the only two outfits among the dozen that applied that’ll be permitted to operate e-scooter rentals on this city’s streets.

That was the announcement to be made today at a hastily arranged press conference — the time and location were still being wrangled up until the last moment — held at Municipal Transportation Agency headquarters at 1 South Van Ness.

“Scoot and Skip put forth the strongest proposals the SFMTA received,” the MTA announced on its website. “The SFMTA found that no other applications substantially exceeded the agency’s standards for operating a shared scooter pilot program in San Francisco to the extent that Scoot and Skip did.”

The 10 other aspiring scooter services are, for now, kicked to the the curb. These include some rather heavy hitters, including Lyft, Uber subsidiary Jump, and Bird, Spin, and Lime — the three companies that triggered municipal rancor and a media firestorm when, earlier this year, they deposited thousands of scooters on city streets without permission. This led to legal threats from San Francisco’s City Attorney and impoundments of the renegade vehicles by the Public Works department. 

“The SFMTA intends to issue the permits to Scoot and Skip on October 15, 2018, which will allow a maximum of 625 scooters for each company in the first six months,” reads the transit agency’s announcement. “Scoot and Skip may have the potential to increase their number of scooters in months seven to 12 to a cap of 2,500, at the SFMTA’s sole discretion.” The pilot program is one year long. 

Today’s outcome is not unanticipated; inside word received by Mission Local last week was that Scoot was seen as the No. 1 applicant. Of note, on May 1, the MTA board unanimously approved a motion regarding scooter permitting, making an applicant’s “past experience including compliance with applicable law and its efforts to ensure compliance of its users with applicable laws” a factor in the process.

For scofflaw rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft or move-fast-break-things scooter outfits like Bird, Lime or Spin, this was seen as a clear indication that they would not fare well in this process. That was the subject of a Chronicle article earlier this month in which inside information from unnamed MTA sources and others about the inchoate scooter-permitting process indicated just that.

Multiple sources have informed Mission Local that the ostensible losers in this process were much displeased, and complained to the office of the mayorMayor London Breed, in a subsequent letter to MTA boss Ed Reiskin, criticized the scooter permitting process as “opaque.”

As such, the MTA today emphasized its “transparency,” posting its internal assessments of all 12 companies’ applications for all to see.

Our calls to some of the companies not awarded permits have not yet been returned. The next steps — procedural, legal or otherwise — for those scooter outfits are yet to be determined.

Update, 3 p.m. MTA officials emphasized the fairness and transparency of the scooter permitting process this afternoon while the losers of that process, informed of this outcome only moments before, railed about a markedly unfair and opaque rigmarole, pledging to appeal today’s decision.

When asked how heavily “past experience including compliance with applicable law and its efforts to ensure compliance of its users with applicable laws” weighed into the decision-making process, MTA sustainable streets director Tom Maguire said “it was one of many criteria we looked at.”

The MTA was prepared, Maguire said, to issue as many as five permits. It only issued two, as it claimed Skip and Scoot were the only companies that passed muster. The rationales for rejecting the other 10 aspirants are all publicly viewable here. These are rather detailed responses — much more so, Mission Local is told, than the usual rejection letters sent to vanquished would-be city contractors. This, city sources continued, is what you’d expect of an agency attempting to insulate itself against all but certain legal and political ramifications from today’s announcement.

Bird — one of the companies that littered the streets of San Francisco with its unpermitted scooters earlier this year — was today notified by letter that it failed to receive a permit for 11 bullet-pointed reasons. Among them: “Bird demonstrates experience operating shared scooter service, but the SFMTA negatively evaluates applicant’s history of violations, which indicates that past strategies have been insufficient to ensure user compliance with laws. San Francisco Public Works impounded 169 improperly parked Bird scooters and issued 5 violations while Bird was operating in the city.”

Lime was similarly dinged, as was Spin. Lyft’s misadventures operating cars on city streets did not go unnoticed: “While experience operating ridehail services lends credibility to various business aspects of Lyft’s proposal, the applicant has no experience to date owning or operating shared mobility equipment in the public right-of-way. Furthermore, the history of violation of traffic laws by ride-hail contractors, including Lyft’s, creates some concern about applicant’s ability to comply with local regulations.”

Scooters block tech buses on 24th and Valencia from Mission Local on Vimeo.

MTA officials today declined to say just how many scooters is too many for San Francisco.”I don’t think that number can be easily calculated,” Maguire said. The 625 per company — which could double six months into the program if the MTA is happy — would seem to be a mere drop in the bucket.

Lime CEO and co-founder Toby Sun, meanwhile, wasted little time e-mailing out a statement blasting today’s announcement and pledging to appeal its result.

“Today’s decision is disappointing. San Franciscans deserve an equitable and transparent process when it comes to transportation and mobility. Instead, the SFMTA has selected inexperienced scooter operators that plan to learn on the job, at the expense of the public good,” Sun wrote. “The SFMTA’s handling of the dockless bike and scooter share programs has lacked transparency from the beginning. We call on the Mayor’s Office and Board of Supervisors to hold the SFMTA accountable for a flawed permitting process.”

Spurned companies have 15 days from receipt of their rejection letter — which will be certified, and may not arrive until Monday — to file an appeal. That appeal, Maguire assured, is an internal MTA process in which other branches of government don’t officially weigh in.

A longtime city politico familiar with the scooter-permitting process doubted the merit of filing such an appeal.

“If I was one of these companies, I’d want to keep my head down,” he said. “I don’t think anybody appealing this to the MTA commissioners is doing themselves any favors. They want to come back in a year and operate. Why keep attacking the agency, when it’ll be the same agency in a year from now? [MTA director] Ed Reiskin may be gone and Tom Maguire may be gone. But the MTA commissioners will still be there.”