San Francisco to End Disastrous Dockless Vehicle Pilot

Olivia Gamboa
Oct 25 · 3 min read

After 100 years, San Francisco is calling for an end to its disastrous pilot project for dockless personal vehicles, colloquially known as cars. Citing a horrible track record in literally every possible category, from noise to air pollution to traffic congestion to pedestrian safety, the head of the SFMTA has announced that enough is enough.

“We started this project with a lot of optimism. It really seemed like these ‘cars’ were going to be a great new thing, but unfortunately that just hasn’t been the case,” said acting SFMTA head. He continued, “We tried everything we could to get people to use them safely, but nothing worked. No matter what we did, people drove them in the wrong places, they drove them too fast, they didn’t pay attention to what they were doing.” He added, “The strangest thing was that driving cars seemed to make people think they didn’t have to take responsibility for their actions anymore. All of a sudden, everyone was claiming that everything was ‘just an accident,’ no matter how negligent they were.”

As the car pilot wraps up, the final statistics are sobering, even given the extensive length of time it was allowed to run. Over the course of the 100-year pilot, the City has tallied a total of 2,434 people directly hit and killed by cars and a total of 56,722 who have been severely injured. A source at the SFMTA who wishes to remain anonymous reflected, “We have killed a small town’s worth of people and left a small city’s worth of people with debilitating injuries. Even we can’t ignore this much data.”

Through the many decades of the pilot, it became clear that the large size of these vehicles meant that in aggregate they required huge amounts of space to store. “We eventually ended up building the whole city to try to accommodate them, and it still didn’t work.” reflects a source at the SFMTA. “People still left them laying everywhere — blocking sidewalks, blocking bike lanes, in parks, anywhere really. We’ve even had to fish them out of lakes occasionally. There is literally nowhere I haven’t seen someone just leave one of these things.”

One of the biggest boondoggles that the long-running pilot introduced was the inadvertent ceding of a large amount of public space to private car owners free of charge. Very early on in the pilot, when there were fewer of the vehicles, they were allowed to park for free on almost any street. Over the years, this was never changed, even as the numbers of the vehicles surged.The result was that taxpayers have been stuck with the bill to provide street storage for these vehicles over decades. The fair market value of the vehicle storage that was given away was estimated to top five billion dollars a year. One community activist notes wistfully, “We could have charged for street parking and used the money to solve homelessness and sent every child in San Francisco to preschool for free for decades. But all we got were streets covered in metal boxes.”

Now that the vehicles are starting to be pulled from the streets, San Franciscans are discovering a whole new city they didn’t know existed. Every night since the pilot ended, increasing numbers of residents have been wandering out of their houses onto the street in a block party of sorts. “It just feels so much calmer around here since the car pilot ended. I don’t think we realized how stressful it was until those things were gone. It’s incredible to be able to let my kids walk down to the corner store without worrying,” notes a mother of three. “There’s so much space!” exclaimed another local resident. “I’d say we finally have all the space we need to build protected bike lanes, but now that the cars are gone, those are just called roads.”

Olivia Gamboa

Written by

Physician, mother, pedestrian safety advocate