Home>Articles>Bird E-Scooter Pulls Out of San Francisco Due To City Bureaucracy and Expensive Fines

Panoramic view of famous Golden Gate Bridge from scenic Baker Beach, San Francisco, CA. (Photo: canadastock/Shutterstock)

Bird E-Scooter Pulls Out of San Francisco Due To City Bureaucracy and Expensive Fines

Bird lost $1.1 million in city fines alone since November 2019

By Evan Symon, February 17, 2023 12:45 pm

Electric scooter company Bird announced this week it will be pulling out of San Francisco, becoming the latest company to leave the city over bureaucratic and profitability issues.

Founded in 2017 in Miami by former Lyft and Uber executives, Bird became the fastest company to achieve a $1 billion financial evaluation the very next year. A micromobility company focused on electric scooter rentals, Bird quickly moved scooters to major cities in the US and across the world. This included, after a long negotiating period in 2018, 1,500 electric scooters throughout San Francisco.

During this time, e-scooters became a polarizing mode of transportation in many cities. As the scooters could be picked up, used, and dropped off at any location within a city, the scooters were heralded by many as a convenient form of clean transportation for short distances. Others, however, found them more of a nuisance, with scooters littering sidewalks, and many users disobeying traffic laws.

While Toronto, Boston, and Montreal outright banned the e-scooters, other cities added more regulations and higher fines for riders. San Francisco opted for the latter after many complaints, set up a system where the company and the riders would split fines. Responding further to complaints, San Francisco also made e-scooter related fines 5 times higher than the national average. Improperly parking a scooter soon garnered a fine much higher than the fine of an improperly parked car. And riding a scooter on the sidewalk rather than on the street or bike lane pulled in a fine of $500 per offense.

Fines quickly racked up, and between November 2019 and the beginning of this year, Bird received a total of $1.1 million in fines. Rival e-scooter companies fared just as badly, with Bay Wheels and Lime receiving $1.2 million in fines each, and Spin getting $805,000. Other regulations, such as banning e-scooters from being used on sidewalks and high fees to operate within the city, also took it’s toll on the company. After a tumultuous 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an emptying San Francisco city center, Bird announced that they would be leaving San Francisco in September of last year.

While some hoped that Bird executives would change their mind, other events finalized Bird’s decision: San Francisco refusing to budge on city regulations, and thousands more workers departing the city over permanent work-from-home assignments or layoffs greatly reducing the number of customers.

“It’s difficult for us to justify operating in a city where we don’t make money,” said Bird vice president of city growth and strategy Maggie Hoffman on Thursday. “San Francisco’s fines are five to six times higher than in any other city in which Bird operates. San Francisco has the most onerous regulations and is the most difficult to operate in of the hundreds of markets we operate in globally.”

“San Francisco is very much the anomaly. The current regulatory framework makes it very difficult if not impossible for operators to serve the city and do so profitably. We don’t want to leave. This is a last resort.”

The Departure of Bird

The departure of Bird caused other e-scooter companies to double-down on the San Francisco market on Friday, with many releasing statements on their commitment to the city, as well as filling in the open market share left by Bird.

“Lime is committed to providing all residents of San Francisco with safe, affordable, and sustainable transportation options in an equitable way,” Lime Senior Manager of Government Relations Charlie Mastoloni said. “We will continue to work with the SFMTA and Board of Supervisors to ensure riders continue to enjoy top tier service.’

“Lime, which will double down on its commitment to hiring local and creating jobs by collaborating with employees who lose roles at other micromobility operators to see if there’s space for them on our team. Our e-scooter program in San Francisco is based on safety, local hiring, and equity and we will continue to build and grow here based on these successful pillars.”

Despite other e-scooter companies saying they will continue on in the city, Bird’s departure is the latest example of a company leaving the city, with transportation experts noting that others may follow.

“A lot of e-scooters are trashed or broken or vandalized due to crime,” Luisa Holcomb, a city planner who focuses on transportation issues, told the Globe on Friday. “It’s not being said, but that is a huge cost as well. High fines were killing them there, especially because San Francisco splits the fines up between the rider and the company. It’s a huge hassle.”

“Plus, San Francisco is being drained of workers right now, with tourism still being on the lower end of where it used to be. It makes sense that they wanted out.”

“But on a view from a planner, this is really not good for the city. San Francisco has really been pushing for greener methods of travel, especially between short distances. E-scooters, for as annoying as many find them, fill in a niche there. With Bird gone, it leaves a hole there even if other e-scooter companies try and move in. Those companies will face higher total fines and more damage costs as a result. No other city is alienating companies like San Francisco is. And they’re scaring away companies that they need to reach city goals. It’s not boding well.”

Besides Lime, other e-scooter companies have not yet responded to Bird’s decision as of Friday afternoon.

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3 thoughts on “Bird E-Scooter Pulls Out of San Francisco Due To City Bureaucracy and Expensive Fines

  1. San Francisco is really the vanguard of California’s economic implosion, isn’t it….
    The proverbial “canary in the coal mine”???
    And who used to be the MAYOR of this formerly beautiful “City by The Bay”???
    Right – Gavin “The Greaseball” Newsom…

    Don’t let this CLOWN anywhere NEAR the Presidency…
    EVERYTHING he touches (including his Weinstein-trollop of a wife) gets RUINED…
    He truly has the ANTI-MIDAS touch…. he’s TOXIC….

    1. Right CriticalDfence9. It’s not JUST Newsom. As you suggest, it includes everyone connected to him and the California Democrat machine. These people already have their hooks into the Biden administration starting with Harris. Julie Su, who led the EDD under Newsom, is getting ready to be appointed Secretary of Labor. California incompetence is being spread to the rest of the country. Is it any wonder that people in other states hate us? Can’t really blame them imo. https://blog.electkevinkiley.com/failing-up/

  2. In this case, its great news. Idiots on electric scooters were riding dangerously on sidewalks, on city streets (without permits or insurance) and I know it is difficult to imagine, even more aggressive and obnoxious scofflaws than SF cyclists. Then throwing the scooters down anywhere even in the middle of sidewalks when they were done with them.

    I have zero sympathy for the SF fair weather cyclists when then end up in ER or under a bus (the rainy day guys are mostly OK) but in the case of electric scooter riders it is great news every time one of them ends up in ER. Or worse. It makes the City a better place.

    So yeah, good riddance. Now sue the companies for all the laws they have broken or facilitated the breaking of over the year.

    The other great news is the Dot 2.0 dot-commers are disappearing just as just as fast as the Dot 1.0 dot-commers did in 2000/2001. All we need is a good size earthquake and that will get rid of a large number of the most obnoxious “progressives”. Just like it did in 1989. No sane person will run for Board of Supes but recalls, Civil Grand Juries and a few nasty tactical law-suits should work wonders over the next few years.

    Now LA. Its unreformable for the foreseeable future. As it has imported so many PRI, PRD, Morena voters. Who will vote for any politician no matter how corrupt as long as they promises them Free Stuff. The Asian voters in SF want good schools and safe streets. Traditional civic politics. So a bit more hope for real reform long term. Now all we need is a new “Sunny Jim” Rolph to clean up the City.

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