(Bloomberg) -- Hi everyone, it's Ellen. I confess: I’m loving the squabbling going on in San Francisco over electric scooters.
Ever since St. Patrick's Day, the city has been dealing with a contagion of the transportation rentals, scattered downtown and on main thoroughfares. Three startups are responsible: Bird, LimeBike and Spin. (Also responsible: the venture firms that have invested $255 million in these companies, most of it in the past two months.)
The scooters' sudden arrival has stirred up a lot of drama. San Franciscans have come up with a long list of gripes: tripping over scooters, the danger to pedestrians, dangers to riders, abandoned scooters, or blaming the whole thing on unidentified "tech bros." City officials, eager to do something, are sending cease-and-desist letters and are planning to require permits soon, while impounding scooters that they say are parked illegally. Observers declare themselves pro- or anti-scooter on Twitter. There’s angry protest art. Some vandals get their message across using feces.
One reason it's hard to tear my eyes away from the Scooterpocalypse: there's so many of them. LimeBike says it has about 200 scooters in San Francisco. Bird and Spin both say they have "a couple hundred."
The startups maintain they're saving the world from hulking, human-crushing, gas-guzzling cars. Critics of the backlash lecture that cars are "dockless" too. It seems like there are almost as many fingers pointed in blame as there are scooters on the street. San Francisco isn't the first city to have its residents wake up one morning and see these scooters parked askew on street corners, toppled across sidewalks like dominoes, or zipping passengers through crowds.
Lime launched its scooters in Austin this month because Bird did first; Bird launched in San Francisco because Lime held a "pop-up" with 100 scooters in March. When a rival swoops in, the companies say they have to act or they’ll lose market share, even if they are trying to seek proper permits. "In Austin, we had been in conversation with the city for months when Bird moved in," said Jack Song, a LimeBike spokesman. "To see our progress and be taken by a bad player in the industry, that was hard for us."
By comparison, the roll-out of electric-assist bicycles here has been relatively peaceful. Jump Bikes is the only dockless bike company in San Francisco, and supply is capped at 250 bikes. While not everyone is happy about their arrival, I've yet to see one smeared with poop. (It also doesn't hurt that Jump, which Uber bought this month, requires the bike be locked to something upright so it doesn't fall over.)
As much as I've relished watching the scooter brouhaha unfold, I predict it will probably die down in six months with one winner. Venture capitalists often write checks with a herd mentality, but they won’t keep funding losers. I remember writing my first story about Lyft in 2013 because everyone was curious about (and annoyed by) the sudden appearance of cars with fuzzy pink mustaches. Now, ride-hailing is here to stay and no big deal (and mercifully, the ‘staches are smaller). Scooters, too, will become an everyday part of the transportation fabric and San Franciscans will just find something new to rile them up.
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