An ex-Uber employee is littering the streets of San Francisco with scooters and claims the city wants to shut down his $300 million startup

Bird founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden.

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Bird founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden.
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Bird

  • An electric-scooter startup sent a press release to reporters accusing San Francisco of planning to ban such scooters.
  • A city official denied the charge, saying San Francisco was only considering regulating them.
  • The city has received numerous complaints about the electric scooters since three venture-backed companies launched services there recently – and their devices started being strewn about on sidewalks.

San Francisco may have a reputation for being an overregulated city. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s planning to ban electric scooters, despite a startup’s warning cry that such a prohibition is imminent.

The on-demand electric-scooter startup Bird on Thursday accused the city of San Francisco of trying to shut it down. In a “breaking” press release sent to the San Francisco Chronicle and SF Curbed, the company said the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was about to institute an emergency ban on scooters in the city.

But Supervisor Aaron Peskin denied the claim, telling the Chronicle that Bird was spreading misinformation. Peskin said he planned to introduce legislation that would regulate scooters, not ban them.

“Contrary to Bird’s assertions, regulations are not bans,” Peskin said in a statement to Business Insider.

A spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which is working with Peskin on the bill and would oversee the permitting process for scooters under it, also said the agency never had plans for a scooter ban.

A Bird spokesman, Ken Baer, declined to name the source of the company’s belief that a ban was imminent, saying only that the company was responding to “pretty good information, enough that we felt it was important for us to go out.”

“We hope they’re wrong, or maybe they changed their minds once we went public,” Baer said. “It actually doesn’t matter, as long as we get to the right outcome, which is to not rush into doing anything hasty and banning this transportation option for the city.”

At least one of Bird’s rivals was less alarmed, though. Euwyn Poon, a cofounder of Spin, a rival electric-scooter-sharing startup, told Business Insider his company hadn’t heard anything from the city about banning electric scooters anytime soon.

‘Numerous’ complaints

San Francisco’s sidewalks have become cluttered with electric scooters in recent weeks as three startups with venture-capital funding – LimeBike, Spin, and Bird – have launched on-demand services in the city. The companies’ services all work similarly: Customers use an app to find a nearby scooter they can borrow. They then just leave them on the sidewalk when they’re done with them, though Bird’s app recommends parking its scooters at bike racks whenever possible and not blocking entrances.

Unlike some bike-sharing companies, Bird and the other scooter companies aren’t providing docks for customers to park the scooters in, signaling to some customers that they can be left behind just about anywhere. That has led to “numerous” complaints, John Cote, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office, told Business Insider in a statement.

A line of Bird's electric scooters. San Francisco residents have complained the scooters frequently aren't left behind in as orderly a fashion.

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A line of Bird’s electric scooters. San Francisco residents have complained the scooters frequently aren’t left behind in as orderly a fashion.
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Bird

Residents have complained of the scooters routinely blocking sidewalks and building entrances, causing people to trip, and making sidewalks less accessible for people who use wheelchairs. Residents have also reported encountering people riding the scooters, which can reach speeds of up to 15 mph, on sidewalks, which is illegal.

San Francisco’s city attorney, Dennis Herrera, told Business Insider his office was considering legal action against the scooter companies.

“The bottom line is our sidewalks need to be safe for pedestrians,” Herrera said in a statement. “They are not dumping grounds for commercial scooters. Kids, parents with strollers, seniors, or people in wheelchairs shouldn’t be tripping over scooters or forced into traffic to get around them.”

But such complaints need to be weighed against what Baer, the Bird spokesman, described as the many benefits scooters provide. The devices are environmentally friendly and can help reduce traffic congestion from cars, he said.

Bird would like to work with the city on possible regulations, Baer said.

San Francisco isn’t the first city to battle with Bird

Bird has raised $115 million to date, including a $100 million round led by Valor Equity Partners and Index Ventures that it announced last month. Its rumored valuation is up to $300 million.

The company’s ranks include numerous employees who got their start at the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft. Among them is its founder and CEO, Travis VanderZanden, who was Lyft’s first chief operating officer before becoming vice president of driver growth at Uber.

Bird’s conflict with San Francisco isn’t its first with a city government. It developed a contentious relationship with the beachfront city of Santa Monica, California, soon after launching its service there in September as its first market.

Bird started operating in the city without notifying city officials, The Washington Post reported. A criminal complaint has been filed against the startup for failing to obtain a permit to operate.

In response to characterizations that Bird is acting like Uber, which has been infamous for flouting local ordinances, Baer said that while Uber was “clearly in violation” of local laws, Bird wasn’t. San Francisco, for example, did not previously have a law governing electric-scooter services, he said.

“For this, I don’t see what the argument is for being illegal,” Baer said. “No one is pointing to a law on the books saying ‘it’s illegal.'”