Revenge of the businesses: Thousands of scooters towed and held for ransom
As scooters continue to colonize San Diego’s streets — blocking parking garages, walkways and encroaching onto private property — locals are beginning to fight back.
While some residents have resorted to vandalism (tossing scooters into dumpsters and lakes), two businessmen in Pacific Beach are offering an alternative way to get rid of errant scooters. They pick them up for free and charge scooter companies — Bird, Lime, Jump and Lyft — to get their property back.
The two entrepreneurs — Dan Borelli and John Heinkel — launched a business called Scooter Removal LLC earlier this month, responding to the constant complaints of their neighbors that electric scooters and e-bikes were crowding into privately owned spaces.
“We don’t want them gone,” Heinkel said. “We just want a check and balance.”
Borelli has had a front row seat to the scooter invasion. He’s a co-owner of Boardwalk Electric Rides, which sells and rents electric skateboards, scooters and other items on the Pacific Beach promenade. It’s here that Bay Area scooter companies have deployed their products en masse, targeting tourists and locals alike. Borelli says it didn’t hurt his business — in fact his sales number have gone up since the dockless trend took hold — but his neighbors were frustrated by the clutter.
Then one day, Heinkel walked into his shop and asked Borelli a question: “How do you deal with this junk in front of your shop every day?” Heinkel, who owns a local tow truck company, ended up negotiating a deal with Borelli and other property owners in the same complex to patrol the business area regularly, impounding scooters and e-bikes that were parked illegally on private property. Within weeks, Heinkel had impounded thousands of dockless bikes and scooters, and the duo realized the demand for scooter removal was bigger than they thought.
When innovation meets the impound lot
They launched Scooter Removal in January, and have collected an additional 1,000 bikes and scooters since incorporating. They’re even developing a mobile app called Scoot Scoop, which lets users report illegally parked scooters and bikes, and book a free removal service. Scoot Scoop isn’t live yet, but Heinkel said they’ll have it up as soon as possible. Until then, people can call to request pickup, sign a tow authorization on the spot, and the company will remove the items for free.
Borelli said they’ve recovered scooters in some pretty odd places, including the rooftops of privately owned homes, garbage cans and even underneath parked cars.
“People run over them while parking, and then just leave them under their cars,” Borelli said.
Their biggest hauls are from business plazas downtown and in beach communities, where business owners have asked Scooter Removal to clear their property regularly.
Borelli said the response from the community has been overwhelming. They’re getting calls from frustrated residents daily, including residents of other cities. He even received a call from a public official working at the city of Atlanta, who said the city is in need of a removal service, too.
Scooter Removal is hiring more developers to build out their software, so they can license out the technology to other tow truck companies, Borelli said.
Scooter companies respond … or don’t
Borelli said most of the dockless companies have been slow to react to their property being impounded. Jump, which is owned by Uber, has been the most responsive, he said.
“They sent a whole team of people down here to meet with us, including their lawyer,” Borelli said. “But they respect private property and they want to do things right. They pay their bill and retrieve their property every day.”
The other dockless companies? Not so much. Borelli said impounded scooters and bikes are piling up in their Pacific Beach warehouse. If the companies don’t retrieve their property, Scooter Removal will likely auction off the items. Borelli said he’s working with his attorney on that, and plans to have their first auction in a couple of weeks.
The U-T requested comment from Bird, Lyft, Uber, and Lime. Only Lime responded in time for print, warning residents to be careful.
“Whether it’s a bike or scooter, micromobility has long been part of San Diego’s commitment to reducing traffic and clean air,” the statement reads. “The community should be careful when engaging with pop-up companies claiming to provide city services like impounding or towing. Impounding bikes or scooters requires compliance with the law, and Lime is in the process of reviewing whether these pop-ups are committing violations which may subject them to liability. Interfering with consumer access to transportation services or disrupting a ride in progress impacts all San Diegans.”
The better option? Lime says contact them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The dockless companies all have ways for residents to report illegally parked scooters and e-bikes, by the way. But that requires residents to contact each company individually, which can sometimes be a hassle.
Heinkel said he believes the dockless companies are littering by allowing their bikes and scooters to end up on private property. But right now, it’s kind of a gray area, as the city is still developing new rules around dockless mobility options.
“They’re operating where no law exists — they built their whole business in this gray area,” Heinkel said. “There’s no clear definition of whether the scooter falls under the vehicle code. We’re trying to hammer out the process moving forward.”
All parties are consulting their attorneys.
What does it cost?
While the service is free for those who request it, Scooter Removal makes its money from the dockless companies themselves. Just like with impounded vehicles, the companies have to pay a fee to get their property back. Borelli wouldn’t disclose exactly how much they’re charging, but said they modeled their rates after the City of Coronado’s system, as the city also impounds bikes and scooters. Under Coronado’s rules, the companies have to pay a $45 impound fee and a $1-per-day storage fee to pick up their bicycles.
Borelli stressed that the company will not remove scooters and bikes unless they are parked on — or touching — private property, are blocking storefronts or driveways. The company can be reached at 858-262-1912.
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.