San Francisco’s city attorney on April 16 sent cease-and-desist orders to Bird, LimeBike, and Spin, demanding they halt their businesses and take stronger steps to keep riders off of sidewalks and parked scooters from obstructing roads and pathways. A week earlier, San Francisco’s Public Works department impounded 66 scooters in response to complaints.

Bird, meanwhile, has circulated rumors that San Francisco is “considering banning its scooters and other electric vehicles, despite the local board of supervisors saying they have no plans to do so. “Rushing through a moratorium on Birds and similar vehicles, without the input of San Franciscans and without careful deliberation, ignores the fact that thousands of city residents love using Birds to get around,” the company wrote in a statement to local news outlets, before comparing the alleged ban to an assault on democracy.

Bird is also working on legislation in the California state assembly that would make it legal for people to ride scooters on sidewalks, and would only require minors to wear helmets.

The two-pronged strategy is similar to tactics Uber used, to great effect, to legitimize its ride-hailing model. Uber rallied riders to its cause when cities attempted to ban its service or enact stringent regulations, while also pushing legislation that made ride-hailing legal. That Bird is using a similar strategy with scooters isn’t surprising; its CEO, and many other people at the company, used to work for Lyft and Uber.

A Spin scooter, propped up next to an out-of-service San Francisco bus.
A Spin scooter, propped up next to an out-of-service San Francisco bus.
Image: Quartz/Elijah Wolfson

Are the scooters safe?

Quartz uncovered that Bird and Spin use rebranded versions of the Chinese company Xiaomi’s Mi electric scooter, and LimeBike uses a proprietary design that appears to be based on one copied by dozens of Asian companies.

It’s not clear in every case whether the scooters have been through the sorts of rigorous tests that other motorized vehicles go through to be able to ride on US streets. There are images on the web of scooters that have broken, presumably through regular wear-and-tear. 

As is often the case with tech trends, the scooter surge has outpaced potential regulation. Quartz asked all three companies what tests they’ve performed on their batteries—remember exploding hoverboards?—and only Spin confirmed that its scooters have been certified safe by UL, a lab for electronics safety standards.

There are also concerns about rider safety. None of the scooter companies provide helmets for each ride (although Bird does hand out free helmets to people who request them in the app). The scooters can travel around 15 mph, which would be enough to cause injury if a rider were to fall off, take a hill too fast, or get hit by a car.

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