The e-scooters of San Francisco

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In May 2018, San Franciscans took to the streets to protest the changes the technology industry was making to their city. Located in an ideal position for both Google and Apple employees, San Francisco attracts a large number of commuters and hosts designated buses travelling to major tech headquarters, including the Googleplex and Apple Park.

Many residents argue, however, that the tech industry and its employees are drastically changing the face of the city. In 2013, residents smashed the windows of a bus travelling to the Googleplex in protest of the way weighty tech-sector salaries were raising house prices in the area. Recently, homeless camps in the Mission District – an area showing growing signs of gentrification – were controversially removed.

In March, another tech-resident arrived in the city which agitated the recent protests. The communal e-scooter was marketed as the perfect companion for tech-savvy, smartphone-owning commuters and silently took over the city’s public places.

The scooters are an efficient way for residents to travel around the city at a pace similar to a sprint. Protestors, who argued that the scooters had more rights than the city’s homeless, were quick to demonstrate how the e-scooters could also be used as barricades for tech-complex-bound busses.

It’s a scene all too familiar for those following China’s bike-sharing crisis. Once the market opened for users, multiple scooter-hire companies were quick to flock to the scene. Soon, the number of e-scooters outnumbered those with a desire to scoot. By May, scooters were blocking public pathways, were piled up in parks and stacked by the side of the roads.

San Francisco officials, however, refused to remain passive during the e-scooter infestation. In June, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) implemented a new law which stated that only companies with permits could deploy scooters in the city. With 12 companies applying for four permits, the agency reviewed the applications of each company carefully.

The results were announced last Thursday, two months later than expected. Instead of choosing established companies like Bird, Spin and Uber-backed Lime, which had already descended on the city, SFMTA chose the smaller, less well-known brands. Scoot and Skip have been granted a one-year licence each, and have begun a slow, polite roll-out of scooters onto San Francisco streets.

The hostility towards the technology industry in San Francisco will certainly not be completely eased by the e-scooter law. However, the crackdown on scooters does reflect the city’s ability to overcome the sometimes overwhelming influence of technology. By insisting that technology companies ask before deploying in the city – and punishing those who do not – San Francisco is exercising its right to choose its own technology in a way which best benefits its residents.

Read more about what makes Vienna most livable city here.

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