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Home / Business / As San Francisco banned scooter use, Oakland hugged the two-wheelers

As San Francisco banned scooter use, Oakland hugged the two-wheelers

San Francisco banned electric scooters from its streets for months, but up to a thousand devices appeared in the bay in Oakland, hauling children to school and transporting office workers downtown.

Politicians welcomed the scooters, hoping to drive Oakland's economy and provide a new mode of transportation for residents who can not afford cars. This trusting approach was in sharp contrast to San Francisco, where officials were initially dismissed by the aggressive tactics of the scooter companies, ultimately selecting only two companies that rent dockless.

"In other cities, they are more of a nuisance, but we can see in the long run how smaller electromobility could solve many problems," said Ryan Russo, director of the Oakland Department of Transportation.

He's among the optimists, predicting that scooters will bring foot traffic to the city center to help merchants on the Jack London Square Waterfront ̵

1; an area that has long struggled because it's too far from BART.

Oakland City Council members share Russo's enthusiasm. In July, the Council approved regulations aimed at evenly distributing scooters in the city by setting up an authorization system and allowing each company to drop at least half its fleet into low-income "communities". If the rules work as an alderman, members would imagine that many of the lightweight, chainless vehicles would end up in isolated pockets of East and West Oakland, where mass transportation is scarce.

Whether Oakland can build this utopia of the electric scooter without sowing dissent among the neighbors. While many residents embrace the sleek two-wheelers, others are startled by drivers who drive carelessly down sidewalks, park their scooters in front of the entrances or stack them in cycle paths.

"The scooter problem is not the scooter itself – it's the way people use it," said Warren Mead, 49, who lives near Lake Merritt. "I would say that about 5 percent of them are used as an alternative transit form, the other 95 percent are people who go to sea, sit on a scooter and have fun."

The new transit fad drew people to one lively debate on the neighborhood forum at Lake Merritt. Some residents revealed the scooters as frightening in busy corridors like Lakeshore Avenue, sometimes with two riders on a vehicle. Others touted the devices as a cost-effective solution for one to three miles of travel and said they would help distract people from cars.

"People are really negative on Nextdoor, but in my social environment we feel really positive about scooters," said Carrie-Andrea Koppelman, 46. She regularly uses scooters to move from her home in the Crocker Highlands neighborhood to her charitable Work in the city center, a few miles away.

So far three companies – Bird, Lime and Skip – work in Oakland. They came slower than San Francisco, Russo said, which could explain Oakland's more ingenious answer. Company representatives even met with city officials and obtained business licenses before bringing in their fleets.

In mid-summer, downtown Oakland and Lake Merritt were flooded in scooters.

On a Monday morning, a construction worker rode a lime from his 14th and Webster Street workplace, on his way to buy a sandwich during his lunch break. A teenager hit Broadway on a bird. A middle-aged man grabbed a lime outside the Whole Foods on 27th Street and rode with it while he was carrying groceries in his backpack.

"These are very inexpensive," said Jamar Welch, 44, a hip hop dance teacher who was a bird pilot around the lake.

Welch said he drove all over the city in a scooter, from East Oakland to West Oakland and downtown to Eastmont Town Center, a shopping mall in Bancroft and 73rd Avenues.

You can spend $ 20 and go anywhere, "he said.

Many commuters in San Francisco also praised the equipment as three high-tech tech companies – Bird, Lime and Spin – launched it in March. But others were worried that people would drive them on sidewalks, dusting and blocking pedestrians and wheelchairs.

In the following weeks, people began to appear in emergency rooms with scooter-related injuries: broken wrists, dislocated elbows, and concussions. the director of emergency medicine at the San Francisco General Hospital said he had seen dozens of similar wounds in people driving scooters as they crashed on steep hills at high speeds without wearing helmets.

"The head injuries are what I'm most worried, "Colwell said," I really wish people would wear helmets. "[19659004] Although California law requires that anyone driving a scooter wear a helmet, a bill passed legislation last week and went to Governor Jerry Brown's desk. Bird is one of the main characters.

Meanwhile, a new era of scooter regulation began in San Francisco. On Thursday, the city selected two start-ups – Skip and Scoot Networks – to rent 625 scooters from October 15 each. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency officials could double the number of scooters in six months.

San Francisco's tighter regulatory process has paid off. The city pulled out various concessions from the companies it selected for permits – Skip proposed a community advisory council and commissioned ambassadors to distribute helmets; Both companies are developing locking systems to prevent their vehicles from blocking sidewalks. The companies also pledged to place their rental equipment in areas of spotty public transit – mainly in southeastern neighborhoods such as the Bayview.

San Francisco's approach signaled that the city would no longer tolerate the show-up-and-ask-for-date. Forgiveness model that so many technology start-ups have tried when they unload their products on public roads.

"We support the spirit of innovation," said Tom Maguire, MTA Sustainable Roads Director. "And we want the private sector to help us, but at some point we need to make sure we protect the public interest and public right of way."

In Oakland, when the trend picks up, complaints about reckless driving and cavalier Parking in

"I've got complaints from frightened passers-by because these electric scooters are silent and fast," said Russo. "And there are definitely concerns that they can block the pedestrian walkway."

The Oakland Police Department began tracking scooter injuries this month, but one spokeswoman said she did not collect enough data to show any patterns.

Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, principal sponsor of the Scooter Licensing Regulation, said she considered potential dangers of the mode when she wrote her legislation.

"People are not allowed to drive these things on the sidewalk, and we'll enforce them," she said.

And Oakland will not allow drivers to park scooters everywhere, Kaplan added. You need to be near curbs in the same "furniture zone" as newspaper kiosks and bus stop masts.

Like Russo, Kaplan sees the potential for scooters as a big balance in a city with strong economic and geographical differences. While the loftier areas of Rockridge and Temescal are teeming with buses and bike lanes, the flat landscapes of East Oakland are closed off by freeways, lined with wide boulevards, and underserved by buses and BART. Even Ford GoBike stations are concentrated in the northwestern part of town, with none to the east of Fruitvale.

Electric scooters could help fix this problem, Kaplan said. Its regulation requires companies to submit data on the patterns of use and the geographical distribution of vehicles to ensure that they are scattered throughout the neighborhoods. Companies operating in Oakland would also need to provide a model for disabled passengers – such as a three-wheeled scooter – and a way to pay without a smartphone.

Kaplan said she wanted to expose the myth that new forms of mobility are emerging. They are "white people". She also wants to encourage more companies to do that: Oakland does not choose which companies will get permits or limit the total number of electric scooters on its roads.

"We're not trying to do that A group of companies are competing so we can pick winners and losers," Kaplan said, referring to the San Francisco permit. "We say: Here are a few rules, if you follow them, you can come in."

San Francisco spent years fighting Silicon Valley companies before the city could set rules for them – from Ride-Hail services to tech shuttles and delivery robots. That could explain San Francisco's cautious approach to electric scooters, and why it contrasts so strongly with Oakland, a city still hungry for investment and innovation.

"San Francisco has traditionally been the place where these companies all want to play in the financial district," said Clarrissa Cabansagan, new Mobility Policy Director for TransForm, a regional transport nonprofit.

Because Oakland has not borne the burden of a lab, it's in a much better position to welcome new technology, she said. In fact, city leaders use new things like electric scooters to fix past injustices.

"If you look at our strategic plan, we're all going to raise Oaklanders that did not have any advantages," Russo said. following the mission of his department to help low-income families, community students, and teenagers taking multiple buses to attend school.

"It's interesting how the scooters fit in," he said.

Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle employee writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @rachelswan

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