Photo by Lydia Chávez

A San Francisco official has spurned an appeal from Spin, the first of three electric scooter companies that complained they were improperly shut out of San Francisco’s burgeoning market.

James Doyle, a hearing officer with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, yesterday upheld the SFMTA’s denial of a permit to Spin while, at the same time, suggesting the agency “seriously consider” allowing Spin to vie for permits in the near future.

San Francisco became the nexus of an improbable international story in March 2018, when Spin, Lime, Bird, and other e-scooter companies began deploying their vehicles on the city’s streets and sidewalks — sans permission. This, per Doyle’s Jan. 29 ruling, was done in an “unsightly and haphazard fashion” as the e-scooters “were generally obstructing if not endangering pedestrian foot traffic.”

In May, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors outlawed unpermitted scooters being left on the street — which, essentially, put a temporary kibosh on all scooters, as it was only then that the SFMTA began to devise a permitting program. In August, Scoot and Skip emerged as the only two companies among 12 applicants to win the SFMTA’s e-scooter golden ticket. Each company is entitled to place up to 625 scooters on city streets for the first six months of this yearlong pilot program; that cap could potentially double within the coming weeks.

Spin, Lime, and Jump objected to both the permitting process and their being shut out of it, and filed grievances. Yesterday’s ruling was the first to reach a decision. And, while each company was rejected on different grounds and, presumably, appealed on different grounds, Doyle’s decision does not portend well for the other aggrieved scooter outfits.

Toward the end of his 9-page ruling, he states that he “disagrees with Spin’s contention that the application and evaluation process the SFMTA created was unfair to Spin or any of the other applicants” (emphasis ours). Spin — as well as Lime and Jump — had complained that the system was rigged against them due to “past experience including compliance with applicable law and its efforts to ensure compliance of its users with applicable laws” being a factor in the evaluations (and this standard applies to the rideshare companies like Lyft or Uber that own scooter outfits)

Doyle also found that SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin did not, as Spin alleged, exhibit “animosity” against the scooter company; Doyle found that Reiskin neither “supported or opposed any particular permit applicant or showed bias toward any particular outcome.” While the SFMTA’s process “can be questioned as lacking the kind of specific direction that most prospective applicants might need and want,” Doyle still found it was not “arbitrary, capricious, or illogical.”

While the hearing officer found the SFMTA was within its rights to deny Spin an initial permit, he added that “Spin has the capacity to meet each of the terms of the Pilot Program. … On this basis, I recommend that SFMTA seriously consider issuing a Pilot Program permit to Spin” if and when the agency deigns to allow more scooters on the streets.

Spin chose to focus on the silver linings.

“We were heartened by the Hearing Officer’s strong recommendation that Spin be granted a permit by the SFMTA at the six-month mark of the pilot,” the company said via statement. “While it’s disappointing that Spin can’t immediately serve our hometown, we appreciate the Hearing Officer’s acknowledgment of our experience and capabilities, and we look forward to working with the SFMTA to serve more San Franciscans with an alternative mobility mode and hire locally from the community.”

In the meantime, the City Attorney’s office is taking this as a win, too.

“We’re pleased the hearing officer validated the SFMTA’s approach,” said John Coté, a spokesman for the City Attorney’s office. Spin’s claim that the process was unfair is simply not supported by the facts. The hearing officer specifically found that there was no evidence the SFMTA showed animosity against Spin or bias in favor of any particular outcome. The SFMTA designed a fair, thoughtful and reasonable program.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. “Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior...

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