Bird Scooters: Next Big Thing or Flop for Providence?

Sunday, July 22, 2018


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They popped up in Providence on Friday

Commuters and residents were met with an unexpected, unexplained surprise on city sidewalks Friday morning: a legion of unassuming black scooters emblazoned with “Bird.”

Residents weren’t the only ones surprised. According to Victor Morente, spokesperson for the City of Providence, the city was given no prior warning that the scooters would be arriving and is now in working with the company to establish a partnership and regulations.

How Does It Work?

The concept is fairly simple: scooters are placed around the city in strategic locations. To use a scooter, users download the Bird app, then use an electronic pad on the scooter to unlock it using the app. Rides cost $1 plus 15 cents per minute. At the end of the trip, users park the scooter on the sidewalk and lock it using the app. The company bills the scooters as “last mile” transportation, ideal for distances that are a little too far to walk but not worth driving to.

Since the scooters are dockless, so-called “chargers” come around at night and collect them, bringing them to their homes where they are charged and brought back to the city early the next morning. According to the website, chargers are paid daily for services through the Bird app. Anyone can sign up to become a charger by completing a profile on the app.

As of Friday, at least 45 scooters were available for rent across the city of Providence.

Launch and Pushback

The company was founded in May 2017 by Travis VanderZanden, who served previous as COO of ridesharing service Lyft, and then as Vice President of Global Driver Growth for rival Uber. Since it’s launch in the Santa Monica, California area, it has spread to several other cities across the country to mixed reviews.

Cities like San Francisco have issued cease-and-desist orders following complaints of scooters left in doorways, on wheelchair ramps, and in front of businesses.

In March, the Santa Monica City Council approved an emergency measure allowing scooters that “pose an immediate hazard or obstruct access” to be impounded with a $60 fee. The city did not specify if the individual riders or the company is responsible for paying impound fees.

So far, 18 cities across 10 states and the District of Columbia are Bird “nests,” with Friday’s addition of Providence, Somerville, and Cambridge bringing the total to 21 cities in 12 states.

VanderZanden remains seemingly oblivious to the pushback, insisting his startup will change the face of urban transportation. In an interview with the New York Times in April 2018, he compared the change to the advent of cars in the early 1900s, saying people were shocked because they were used to horses. Given time, he believes electric scooters will be the main source of transportation in cities, with a goal of decreasing and even eliminating urban car usage.

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Worries about safety

Ensuring Safety

The Bird app states that helmets are required for rentals, though there is no system in place to regulate actual compliance. The company has reportedly sent out thousands of free helmets to riders who have requested them.

In addition, riders must be at least 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license to operate the scooters.

Riders are encouraged to use bike lanes whenever possible and never operate scooters on sidewalks. However, like with the helmets, there are no regulations in place to keep riders off sidewalks, meaning many will anyway. In an effort to improve infrastructure in cities, Bird released the Save Our Sidewalks (S.O.S.) pledge, stating that $1 from every scooter will be given to city governments every day to encourage more bike lanes and accessibility for alternate forms of transportation.

Bike and Scooter Share Programs 

All is not go-go in the emerging bike and scooter share market. On Friday, one of the biggest players functionally left the U.S. market. "

"Ofo laid off the majority of its workforce in the U.S. on Wednesday as the Chinese bike-share company began to withdraw from several markets. One source pegged the layoffs at around 70% of its roughly 100-person U.S. staff. The company will also be shuttering operations in several cities in the U.S., though it’s unclear which cities will be affected. As of June, the company was operating in 30 markets, including Seattle and Washington, D.C," reported Forbes.

"As we continue to bring bikeshare to communities across the globe, ofo has begun to reevaluate markets that present obstacles to new, green transit solutions, and prioritize growth in viable markets that support alternative transportation and allow us to continue to serve our customers," Ofo said in a statement.


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