San Diego duo takes on electric scooter industry
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[August 01, 2019] By
SAN DIEGO, (Reuters) - Two men in San Diego
have impounded thousands of electric scooters they say have been left
littered about the city and endangering pedestrians, sparking a battle
with companies that have flooded cities with the two-wheelers.
John Heinkel, 55, and Dan Borelli, 43, operate a small outfit called
ScootScoop. They use a flatbed truck to tow away scooters they say have
been left improperly around hotels or other private properties.
In just over a year of operations, they have impounded more than 12,500
electric scooters, Borelli said. The electric scooter companies Bird and
Lime have responded by suing them in California state court and accused
them of unlawfully taking their vehicles.
The battle between the men and the scooter companies underscores the
chaotic legal landscape for the vehicles, which are the same size as toy
scooters that many people rode as children but are powered by an
Cities in the United States and Europe have struggled with how to
regulate the scooters, amid complaints from some residents and
businesses that they clutter sidewalks when parked and endanger
pedestrians when driven.
A dozen electric scooter companies have received more than $1.5 billion
in investments in total, according to a report issued earlier this year
by Boston Consulting Group.
Borelli describes ScootScoop as a start up in its own right, with he and
Heinkel the only full-time employees. Like many start-ups, ScootScoop is
not yet profitable.
Most of the scooters the firm has impounded in San Diego are from Bird
and Lime, but those companies are refusing to pay to retrieve their
vehicles and are fighting ScootScoop in court through their lawsuits,
Bird in a statement said ScootScoop was "unlawfully impounding
micro-mobility devices and demanding a ransom for their return."
"We are seeking an immediate end to their scheme as the company is
robbing people of the environmentally friendly scooter options they've
come to rely upon each day to get to and from work, as well as to local
businesses," the company said.
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A man travels along a street atop an electric scooter in downtown
San Diego, California, U.S., July 29, 2019. Picture taken July 29,
2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Lime in a statement said ScootScoop has repeatedly taken scooters that are
"Their attempts to deputize themselves as an extension of the city is not only
unlawful, but it is nothing more than a property theft scheme to generate
income," Lime said.
ScootScoop claims the right to impound scooters under California law when they
are improperly parked on private property, and it invoices the scooter companies
at least $50 per vehicle to return them, Borelli said. ScootScoop plans to
auction off some scooters if it doesn't get paid.
With Bird and Lime refusing to pay, the scooters sit in ScootScoop's compound,
but not silently. As ScootScoop's truck drove away with a load of them last week
they emitted a chorus of chirping sounds designed to scare off potential
San Diego city leaders earlier this year approved regulations for electric
scooters that require companies to obtain permits and comply with new rules,
such as ensuring that in the downtown area the scooters are only parked in
certain designated "corrals."
Borelli and Heinkel said they are not personally opposed to scooters in San
Diego, California's second-largest city.
"We don't want to turn it into a war," Borelli said. "We want to see
co-existence. We want to see the scooter survive."
(Writing and additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bill Tarrant
and Cynthia Osterman)
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