Since September last year, a new mode of transportation has taken flight in Los Angeles. Based right out of Santa Monica, Bird Rides, Inc. provides electric scooters for communal use throughout Los Angeles, which users can access through Bird’s app. For $1, and then $0.15 per mile, individuals can use the app to locate and unlock an electric scooter, and then park it (wherever they like) when they’re done, leaving it for the next Bird user to find. Bird collects the scooters at night or whenever they need a re-charge, and then delivers them back the next morning.
Ideally, Bird was meant to be a quick and easy alternative to traveling short distances (up to 15 miles), reducing dependence on a car or other ride. The environmentally-friendly solution is a welcome resolve in the face of street and car congestion.
For many, it’s an exciting new way to get around. People have been mostly compliant; rules stipulate that users must be over 18, possess a valid driver’s license, wear a helmet, and stay off the sidewalk. Users are also required to have a valid credit card to be charged accordingly. It helps people swing a quick errand or serve as a faster way to connect between public transportation stops or to their final destination.
Individuals like it, but Santa Monica city officials have been frustrated with the new string of problems these Bird scooters have created. Santa Monica city mayor, Ted Winterer says he wasn’t informed of these plans until the scooters were already out on the streets. The notice he received was via a LinkedIn message from Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden about this new opportunity, but it was received after Bird had deployed their first fleet into city streets.
In response, Santa Monica city filed a criminal complaint of nine counts since Bird had not obtained a vendor permit, and claims Bird was refusing to work out the licensing issues. Bird argues that these vendor permits are only applicable to food vendors, not the dockless shared scooters. Since the initial complaints, the City of Santa Monica and Bird came to an agreement upon licensure, and the city dismissed the original complaints.
As with many things, there are at least two major downfalls: accidents and people not following the rules. The Santa Monica Police Department has made 281 traffic stops and issued 97 citations involving the Bird scooter, in a little over a month from the beginning of 2018.
Though Bird issues its rules for scooter use, it’s ultimately up to the user whether they choose to follow them or not. Bird’s VanderZanden says he’s personally disabled accounts or scooters if he sees or is made aware of misuse. Still, Santa Monica PD has been having to hound or even cite people for not wearing their helmets or to get off the sidewalks. Just last month, a helmet-less rider was seriously injured when she blew through a stop and crashed into a car. Recently, Bird added a feature in which users can order a free helmet directly from the app and it will be delivered to them.
Additionally, while the beauty of the Bird scooters allows you to leave them wherever you want, that has also become a nuisance since people literally do leave them wherever they want. This includes doorways, driveways, and wheelchair ramps, for which Santa Monica has received numerous complaints about.
Underage users are another problem, with kids much younger-looking than 18 years are riding through Venice or Santa Monica, sans helmet and unsafely occupying the boardwalk. Bird says it will be implementing much stricter policy for creating accounts, in order to curb the under-age use.
The broader issue that cities like Santa Monica and the like are facing is trying to keep up their regulations with the innovations of the tech age, such as Uber, Airbnb, and now Bird. Bird insists it did reach out to the city prior to the launch, but Santa Monica has at least five city departments that could be necessary in regulating its business.
So far, Bird is active in Santa Monica, Venice, Marina del Rey, Culver City, and two weeks ago, they just deployed a fleet in San Diego. They intend to go national and even international in time. VanderZanden says San Diego is currently in a pilot program phase, and have not yet made commitments to stay or expand in the area.
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Check Out These References for Further Reading:
Bird.com. Retrieved 20 February 2018. https://www.bird.co/
“Sudden Appearance of Electric Scooters Irks Santa Monica Officials.” Washington Post. Retrieved 20 February 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/sudden-appearance-of-electric-scooters-irks-santa-monica-officials/2018/02/10/205f6950-0b4f-11e8-95a5-c396801049ef_story.html?utm_term=.36d57b517579
“The Bird Electric Scooter Conundrum: So Fun, So Exhilarating, So Dangerous.” LA Times. Retrieved 20 February 2018. http://www.latimes.com/local/abcarian/la-me-abcarian-bird-scooters-20180206-story.html
“Former Uber/Lyft Executive’s Scooter Company, Bird, Takes Off.” The Drive. Retrieved 20 February 2018. http://www.thedrive.com/tech/18597/former-uber-lyft-executives-scooter-startup-bird-takes-off
“Bird Scooters are in San Diego. Question: Will they fly?” San Diego Tribune. Retrieved 21 February 2018. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/columnists/diane-bell/sd-me-bell-20180210-story.html