What to Know About Scootering in San Francisco

by Alexandra Pacurar

Green urban mobility used to revolve around bike sharing, but now it’s all about electric scooters. Even though the small two-wheeled vehicles have been around for a while, this is still considered an emerging industry. One that is estimated to be worth nearly US$42 billion by 2030, with a compound annual growth rate of 8.5 percent, according to research by San Francisco-based Grand View Research Inc.

In 2019, the global electric scooters market size was estimated at $18.6 billion, with e-scooter sharing services available in more than 90 cities across the globe. No wonder there are dozens of scooter rental/share apps that cater to people’s need to get from here to there fast, cheaply and in an eco-friendly manner—we see you, Greta—with more expected to be launched soon.  

As you might have guessed, if you are even remotely familiar with modern mobility, Uber and Lyft have already claimed a piece of the e-scooter rentals pie. Uber acquired dockless bike rental company JUMP in 2018 and is using insights in its system to perfect its scooter business. Last summer, JUMP launched its new and improved e-scooter, with a bigger frame and hand breaks, meant to improve safety and encourage people to choose them over cars. Uber is now working with a different scooter manufacturer, whose name it chose not to disclose. Previously, it worked with Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi, who, along with Ninebot-Segway, were the most notorious suppliers in the industry. JUMP scooters are now available in several major cities (mostly tech hubs) in the U.S. (San Francisco included) and Europe.

The e-scooters market in North America is forecast to have a compound annual growth rate of 13.1 percent from 2020 to 2030. One of the most dynamic markets for urban mobility products and services is San Francisco. Currently, four e-scooter sharing companies have been granted permission by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to operate in the city: Jump, Lime, Spin and Scoot.

The local government has taken a firm step in regulating the use of scooters after a complete ban in 2018, following countless complaints from residents. Soon, it launched a pilot program with a limited number of such vehicles allowed on the streets. In December, an expansion of the program was announced with 750 devices more. Now, Scoot, owned by Santa Monica company Bird, has a permit for 1,000 scooters. Lime, JUMP and Spin can now offer 750 each—an increase from 500 scooters each.

Also, as part of the program, all companies must launch adaptive scooter share initiatives in the city. Uber already put out two new scooter models as part of its adaptive initiative, available through San Francisco Bike Rentals.

Bird, like Uber, has debuted its second generation of e-scooters—Bird Two—in San Francisco, at the beginning of the year. The sturdier design also comes with several enhancements that are meant to discourage vandalism and improve safety. Lime has also invested in tech upgrades for its scooters that are meant to detect illegal sidewalk rides. The technology is based on the fact that sidewalks have a differently textured surface compared to roads or bike lanes. Users that spend more than half of their ride on the sidewalk will be notified that their activity was illegal. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, no penalties will be involved at first, as the initiative is an educational one. The technology is expected to be available soon throughout the Bay Area. 

Will e-scooters last in San Francisco? The future of this portion of urban mobility is quite uncertain as economists are pessimistic about the profitability of operators—given high maintenance and replacement costs. The severity of regulations and safety issues are other aspects that make the future challenging for companies that continue to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from investors to put into the development and expansion of their ride-share businesses.