Bird Scooter Regulations Could Net Prov $124k, But Is There Any Enforcement?

Saturday, August 11, 2018


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Father and daughter riding a scooter on the sidewalk and no helmets

The City of Providence could bring in as much as $124,500 in just the first year of its just-released regulation of electric scooters. The unregulated Bird Scooters popped up across the city weeks ago and despite the company having a policy the requires riders to wear helmets, be 18-years-old and ride on the street -- few follow those guidelines and there is no city enforcement.

Mayor Jorge Elorza's office unveiled the "E-Scooter Share Pilot Program" Friday, about a month after Bird Scooter's unexpected arrival. The regulations outline the permit application process and requirements for companies, as well as provide guidelines for riders. 

The one-year pilot program runs through August 2019. During that time, no more than 300 scooters total will be allowed in the city. Public comment is welcome over the course of the pilot program. 

Scooter companies will be required to pay $1 per scooter, per day upfront at the time of application. If the 300 scooter cap is met, the City of Providence stands to make $109,500 in a year. Each scooter carries an additional $50 endowment fee for maintenance and property repair costs, bringing the total to $124,500. The company is also required to take out an insurance policy of at least $1 million.

The unexpected arrival of Bird Scooters in major cities have made national headlines, with the vehicles appearing overnight on city sidewalks. Bird Founder Travis VanderZanden, a former exec at both Uber and Lyft, said in his "Save Our Sidewalks Pledge" that commuters have "an unprecedented opportunity to reduce car trips--especially the roughly 40 percent of trips under two miles."

As part of the SOS pledge, VanderZanden has also made an individual commitment to give $1 per scooter, per day to every city with the scooters, to be used for improving streets, sidewalks, and bike lanes. It is unknown if Bird plans to offer this contribution in addition to the fee required by the City of Providence.
In a phone interview with GoLocalProv, Elorza's Press Secretary Victor Morente said the regulations were drawn up using other cities' regulations as a guide, with little input from the scooter companies themselves. 

Fed Up

As Bird continues their signature "launch now, ask permission later" approach, cities across the country are pushing back.

The Los Angeles Times reports that residents of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, home of Bird's headquarters, are taking matters into their own hands. Videos showing half-submerged scooters at the beach and massive scooter bonfires have been proudly posted to social media. Other reports describe scooters as snapped in half, shoved into city toilets, stacked into 10-foot piles, and more. Local police say they are doing little to stop the vandalism because very few reports are made. So far, only one arrest has been made in connection with the destruction of a scooter.

On Instagram, an entire page was created dedicated to the destruction of the scooters, "Bird Graveyard -- if a bird or lime scooter has died, please send us pictures or video so we can honor its death. RIP." There are 26,000 followers.



spotted by @coreyharper

A post shared by Bird Graveyard (@birdgraveyard) on


In Cambridge, Massachusetts, city officials ordered in July that all Bird scooters be removed from city streets until regulations are put into place. In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh has said that if they are dropped off without permits they will be dumped at the tow yard.

In Providence, the scooters have been unregulated for weeks.

"It was mostly an internal, collaborative effort between several departments," Morente said.

Morente added that the Department of Public Works communicated with Bird indirectly through lobbyist and consultant Ray Sullivan, who said he was not authorized to comment on the negotiations. 

"Providence and Bird have a shared vision of a community with fewer cars, less traffic, and reduced carbon emissions," a Bird spokesperson said in a statement. "We have been working with Providence city officials and look forward to continuing to work in partnership as we seek a permit under the new guidance."
Portland, Oregon implemented similar regulations in July, charging a $0.25 fee per scooter use. Applicants are required to provide a detailed list of information about the scooters, including maintenance schedule, prior complaints, history of safety, and a data sharing agreement. 

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Permit Regulations

Providence's permit application is in many ways similar to Portland's, requiring companies to obey strict rules regarding maintenance, placement, and monitoring of scooters. 
Companies are required to equip scooters with individual serial numbers for identification, as well as list a 24-hour support helpline on the vehicle. Each must be equipped with a sensor that sends an alert if it is not parked in an upright position, and the company must have the ability to remotely lock down scooters or change the speed limit.
A planned maintenance schedule must be provided at the time of application, and any scooter that is not operable must be removed from city sidewalks within 24 hours and fully repaired before it is returned to use. 

To ensure equal distribution of scooters throughout the city, the company is required to ensure no more than 50 percent and no less than 10 percent of their fleet is located within each of five "zones" in the city.

Rules for Riders

The E-Scooter Share program allows operators to ride on both the street and sidewalks. If operating on a sidewalk, riders are required to yield to pedestrians, ride single-file, and go slow. 

On the street, the same rules of the road as for drivers apply, meaning riders must stop and traffic lights, ride with traffic, and cannot ride more than two across. All other traffic laws must be obeyed.

Riders must have a valid driver's license or a municipal ID in order to operate a scooter and are "encouraged" to wear a helmet. Age requirements (usually 16 or 18 years old) are set by individual companies.

Rhode Island general law broadly states that a DUI applies to anyone who "drives or otherwise operates any vehicle in the state while under the influence of any intoxicating liquor, drugs, toluene, or any controlled substance," not just traditional motor vehicles. This means smaller vehicles, including bicycles and electric scooters, are included under the law. Rider requirements specifically state that riders cannot use the scooters while intoxicated. 

At the end of the ride, scooters are required to be parked upright on the curb, without blocking curb ramps, fire hydrants, driveways, entrances to buildings, or other shared paths. Other cities have also put in strict parking guidelines following complaints of the scooters laying across sidewalks and blocking handicapped ramps. 
Under the regulations, scooters will only be available for use between sunrise and sunset. Bird scooters are already removed during evening hours, when a fleet of paid "Chargers" pick them up, recharge them at their homes, and return them to city sidewalks the next morning.


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