Inspired by Uber and Lyft — and helmed by some of their former executives — a handful of companies are scattering electric scooter across cities first, then waiting for the law to deal with them.
It’s a strategy, promoted by former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, called “principled confrontation.” Or as Euwyn Poon, cofounder of electric scooter company Spin, refers to it, “innovating on the regulatory side.”
City officials call it something else: “illegal business activity.”
In Santa Monica in September, Bird placed scooters on the city's streets, allowing customers to unlock them with a proprietary app. Santa Monica responded by filing criminal charges against the company, which were ultimately dismissed when the company pleaded no contest and agreed to pay $300,000 in fines.
In San Francisco this month, the electric scooter companies LimeBike, Spin, and Bird all distributed their scooters across the city. Unsurprisingly, all three companies are arguing they shouldn't face penalties because there were no rules in place to regulate their particular mode of transportation.
The companies see it as an emissions-free solution to the “last mile” often walked on foot or taken on a rideshare after using public transit. But residents complain that riders take the scooters on sidewalks and leave them parked across sidewalks, blocking ADA ramps and tripping unsuspecting pedestrians.
Since their rollout, the companies have been negotiating with Santa Monica and San Francisco on how scooters should be regulated, and how the companies can get their riders to follow the rules.
This segment originally aired May 2, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.