Last week, San Francisco start-up Scoot Networks launched an electric scooter sharing service (similar to popular bike sharing programs), allowing clients to rent scooters occasionally, or sign up for subscription and rent them whenever they are needed. Which is perhaps the best idea since Zipcar.
The one caveat: the company might not be legal.
Before the company's launch, the blogosphere was ablaze with anticipation over Scoot Networks. Wired excitedly outlined the scooter details, which include a smartphone docking dashboard that tracks mileage, speed and range. Scoot Networks tweeted trial subscriptions at reporters, and reporters enthusiastically accepted. And who could blame them? (HuffPost SF's invite must have been lost in the Twittersphere...cough.) The company is reportedly even an Angel List darling.
But mere days after launching, SF Appeal reported that the subscription service -- the company's defining factor -- may violate both DMV and CHP regulations requiring drivers to hold a motorcycle license.
Usually, scooter owners need to posses a special license, but a loophole allows for short-term rentals.
However, according to DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez, "[Scoot Networks'] subscription service is the hiccup." Gonzalez told the SF Appeal that, while the 48-hour limit keeps Scoot Networks in the clear, the longer-term subscriptions may require a license.
When SF Appeal questioned Scoot Networks CEO Michael Keating about the DMV interpretation, he was quick to defend his company:
"The feedback we got was really ambiguous. We talked to the DMV, we had an attorney look into it. [...] We had a Sacramento-based transportation consultant look into it. This is letter of California vehicle code, not someone at the DMV who thinks they know what the rules are."
One would assume that Scoot Networks could just drop the subscription service. But since monthly rates are comparable to a Clipper card (and who wouldn't choose a scooter over Muni?), we can bet subscriptions would be Scoot's bread and butter.
Keating has even engaged in a few Twitter spats regarding the issue. During a recent exchange, CityBike Magazine tweeted, "Curious as to why you think putting untrained riders into a dangerous motorcycling environment is a good idea." (Do we sense a hint of jealousy?)
Scoot Networks quickly retorted: "We don't. Safety of our riders and everyone else in SF is our priority. The more people on 2 wheels, the safer the city will be."
In an interview with SF Appeal, Keating insisted that Scoot Networks was certainly not out to bend laws or endanger the good people of San Francisco, but rather to make life greener (and easier) for all of us.
"We're not getting more, cheaper cabs," said Keating to SF Appeal. "We're not getting better Muni. […] This business is grounded in making this city a better place to live."
Time will tell what the DMV has in store for Scoot Networks. But here at HuffPost SF, one thing is for sure: we're trading our Clipper cards for Scoot subscriptions at the first green light.