Bird –– the scooter-sharing company that took Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan’s campus by storm this fall –– says it will continue to operate during the winter, depending on daily weather conditions.
A Bird spokesperson confirmed the company’s intentions to let the public proceed with riding through the winter months, but added that the vehicles could be removed if inclement weather were to occur.
“Bird is extremely committed to the safety of our riders, and so we take into account the weather conditions of each city where Bird is available,” a Bird spokesperson wrote in an email to The Daily.
The spokesperson said Bird has a monitoring team that reviews riding conditions and determines whether roads are safe for use each day, and oftentimes the service will pause riding when weather is not permitting, such as during storms or hurricanes. When there’s a threat of blizzards or icy roads, the company investigates to deem whether the driving environment is safe. Bird’s statement still leaves uncertainty as to whether the Bird scooters will, in fact, completely migrate south for the winter.
Scooter usage has been hotly contested ever since they arrived in Ann Arbor this past September. After the scooters’ initial deployment, the city of Ann Arbor temporarily removed nearly two dozen scooters for violating city ordinances that require motorized vehicles not to interfere with the public right-of-way. According to Lisa Wondrash, the city’s communications director, Ann Arbor has had many Bird-related violations, but only one has been reported and confirmed to have resulted in an injury attributable to a Bird scooter. Since the initial crackdown, a total of 44 scooters have been impounded.
Backlash from the local government’s decision to seize the scooters led to an agreement passed in November with Bird Rides, Inc. that requires the company to pay a fee to the city of Ann Arbor, provide educational materials to its users and assume liability for improper driving or parking of the vehicles.
“The City Council has provided their policy direction regarding Bird and scooter share companies, which is that we should allow them to operate insofar as they can be operated safely and they can add value in terms of providing an alternative and in-demand transportation option for Ann Arbor,” Wondrash said.
With the passage of the resolution, scooters are to be parked responsibly on sidewalks when not in use, not directly in the walking path or in any way impeding a pedestrian’s access. Though the resolution with Bird could potentially limit students’ abilities to ride more frequently, some students, like LSA junior Yosef Gross, agree with the measures.
“I think that making the operator take financial responsibility for inappropriate use of scooters is sensible because it will incentivize them to educate and encourage riders to use them properly,” Gross wrote in an email interview.
While Bird scooters are still allowed on campus, the University has also intervened to discipline scooter-related violations. Melissa Overton, deputy chief of police at the University of Michigan Police Department, said UMPD has issued two Bird-related violations: one for being parked inside a building, and one for being involved in an accident.
Bird scooters have taken on a cult following among University students, who use the vehicles to move throughout Michigan’s vast campus. The convenience of the scooters is what most attracts student riders.
“A 10-minute walk to class only takes me four minutes when I scooter,” Gross wrote.
As temperatures continue to plummet and inclement weather begins to arrive in Ann Arbor during the winter months, city officials are concerned with the potential safety hazards that could come with riding scooters on icy roads or other slippery surfaces.
“Bird riders will have to be careful in the winter, and make sure that the roads and sidewalks are clear of snow and ice before they attempt to ride on them,” Wondrash said. “Bird has said that they will monitor snow and ice to determine deployment levels of scooters, and the city also has the authority to order the scooters off the streets if weather makes their operation impractical, according to the licensing agreement.”
Gross, however, wrote he’s “not too concerned about scootering in the winter.”
“If there is a significant amount of snow or ice on the ground, I won’t ride one,” Gross wrote. “Otherwise, I trust my scootering skills that I've honed ever since I rode my first razor scooter in elementary school.”
Just as Bird has stated, there are still common sense situations that would cause for scooter usage to be suspended. In the event of a major snowstorm or icy road conditions, the service assigns employees to remove the scooters from the city in which they are operated. Such conditions are understandably unnavigable to the public and have led some to accept removal of the vehicles.
“I think scooters should be shut down on days with particularly bad weather conditions, like when there is a lot of ice or snow. Otherwise, I think that they should still be allowed in the winter,” Gross wrote. “I actually think that they could be more convenient in the winter because they will minimize the time that riders have to spend outside in the cold and maybe lead riders to go to places they wouldn't otherwise walk to in the cold.”