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Dockless Scooter Startups Follow Uber in Asking Regulators for Forgiveness Instead of Permission



(p. B1) Electric scooters have arrived en masse in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, with companies competing to offer the dockless and rechargeable vehicles. Leading the pack is Mr. VanderZanden's Bird, with rivals including Spin and LimeBike. The start-ups are buoyed with more than $250 million in venture capital and a firm belief that electric scooters are the future of transportation, at least for a few speedy blocks.

The premise of the start-ups is simple: People can rent the electric scooters for about a $1, plus 10 cents to 15 cents a minute to use, for so-called last-mile transportation. To recharge the scooters, (p. B5) the companies have "chargers," or people who roam the streets looking to plug in the scooters at night, for which they get paid $5 to $20 per scooter.

The problem is that cities have been shocked to discover that thousands of electric scooters have been dropped onto their sidewalks seemingly overnight. Often, the companies ignored all the usual avenues of getting city approval to set up shop. And since the scooters are dockless, riders can just grab one, go a few blocks and leave it wherever they want, causing a commotion on sidewalks and scenes of scooters strewn across wheelchair ramps and in doorways.

So officials in cities like San Francisco and Santa Monica, Calif., have been sending cease-and-desist notices and holding emergency meetings. Some even filed charges against the scooter companies.

"They just appeared," said Mohammed Nuru, director of the San Francisco Public Works, which has been confiscating the scooters. "I don't know who comes up with these ideas or where these people come from."

Dennis Herrera, the San Francisco city attorney who sent cease-and-desist letters to Bird and others, described the chaos as "a free for all."

Mr. VanderZanden said given how enormous a social shift he believes his scooters are, he was not surprised it ruffled some feathers. But people would eventually adjust, he said.

"Go back to the early 1900s, and people would have a similar reaction to cars because they were used to horses," he said. "They had to figure out where to park all the dockless cars."

If there is something familiar about these scooter companies' strategy of just showing up in cities without permission, that's because that has now become a tried-and-true playbook for many start-ups. In its early days, Uber, the ride-hailing giant, also barreled into towns overnight to launch its service and only asked for forgiveness later.

"Cities don't know what it is," Caen Contee, the head of marketing for LimeBike, said of the arrival of electric scooters. "They don't know how to permit it until they've seen it."


. . .


"My brother and sister legislators from Santa Monica warned me that that phenomenon has hit their cities," said Aaron Peskin, who is on San Francisco's board of supervisors, the city's legislative branch. Referring to the scooter start-ups, he added, "These people are out of their minds."



For the full story, see:

Nellie Bowles and David Streitfeld. "Charged Up Over Scooters Despite Uproar." The New York Times (Sat., April 21, 2018): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 20, 2018, and has the title "Electric Scooters Are Causing Havoc. This Man Is Shrugging It Off.")






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