Electric scooter startup Bird wants to make it legal to ride scooters on the sidewalk

A LimeBike scooter sits on the sidewalk in San Francisco.
A LimeBike scooter sits on the sidewalk in San Francisco.
Image: Quartz/Matt Korman
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San Francisco has been flooded with electric scooters from startups that think the internet-connected vehicles could be the next big thing in local transportation.

Backed by more than $250 million in venture capital funding, Bird, LimeBike, and Spin have dumped hundreds of scooters for adults on the city in recent weeks, much to the chagrin of regulators. The influx has sparked plenty of complaints from residents, who feel the scooters are at best a public nuisance and at worst a threat to public safety. On April 16, the San Francisco city attorney sent cease-and-desist orders to all three companies, demanding they halt operations and take stronger steps to keep their riders off of sidewalks.

Now, Bird, the company founded by former Uber and Lyft executive Travis VanderZanden, is pushing legislation that would sidestep those concerns by making it legal to ride electric scooters on sidewalks.

The legislation was introduced Feb. 16 by California state assembly member Heath Flora and is scheduled to be heard by the assembly transportation committee on April 23. It proposes letting “standup electric scooters” be operated on sidewalks unless specifically prohibited by local rules. It says standup electric scooters could be ridden in a designated bike lane, “at a speed no greater than is reasonable or prudent.”

The bill also states that only the “minor operator” of such a scooter be required to wear a helmet, meaning adults wouldn’t have to do so.

Dylan Gray, chief of staff to Flora, told Quartz in an email that Bird “brought the issue to the legislature’s attention.” Bird confirmed that it was involved in working on the bill. “The intent of the pending California legislation for e-scooters is to bring e-scooters into parity with e-bikes on helmet requirements,” Kenneth Baer, a Bird spokesperson, said in an emailed statement.

The bill “creates a baseline legal framework for local governments to build upon depending on the specific needs of their communities,” Flora said in an emailed statement. Flora represents state assembly district 12 in California’s Central Valley, where there aren’t actually any electric scooter companies operating, as far as his staff is aware, Gray said.

Attempting to change the law was also a favorite tactic of Uber, where VanderZanden previously worked, which successfully pushed through legislation in dozens of states that sanctioned its ride-hailing model. Travis Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and former CEO, famously said the company was “in a political campaign, and the candidate is Uber and the opponent is an asshole named Taxi.”

Bird’s bill seems unlikely to be well received in San Francisco, where the venture-capital fueled rash of scooters already has residents on edge. “The scooters have added one more hazard to being a pedestrian,” James Garfield wrote in a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle published April 19. “Today, as one of these scooters came at me, I told the rider it was illegal to use them on the sidewalk. The rider stopped and threatened to punch me in the face.”

The bill proposes defining a “standup electric scooter” as a vehicle powered by electric motors of less than 750 watts, and capped at a speed of 20 miles per hours. The scooters deployed by Bird, LimeBike, and Spin all reach max speeds of about 15 mph and have maximum weight capacities of around 200 lbs. And in any case, a 200-lb rider traveling at 15 mph on the sidewalk could still do plenty of damage to you, a human, walking.