City, University respond to surprise deployment of Bird scooters

Monday, September 10, 2018 - 6:12pm

On Aug. 16, Bird announced the beginning of its “University Pop-Up Tour.”

On Aug. 16, Bird announced the beginning of its “University Pop-Up Tour.” Buy this photo
Katelyn Mulcahy/Daily

Bird Rides are familiar to residents of places like California –– and more recently, Detroit –– but the motorized scooters made their debut for anyone with a smartphone in Ann Arbor on Friday. The company says it “works closely with the cities in which it operates,” but it has a reputation for leaving “nests” of its scooters available to users of its app in cities, often without notifying city officials.

Though the company communicated with city officials in Detroit ahead of the scooters’ installation there in early August, the city of Ann Arbor appeared to have been caught off guard. On Friday, the city sent an email to residents warning them that usage of the scooters could merit a ticket. 

“It came to the city of Ann Arbor's attention today, Sept. 7, that a vendor, Bird Rides, Inc., has deposited motorized scooters around the City for short-term use by City residents,” the email read. “Residents should be aware that operating or leaving these scooters on City sidewalks or leaving them in City streets is prohibited and subjects violators to citation by the City, penalties, and City removal of any left scooters.”


City officials were not available for comment by the time of publication.

A month after the scooters originally appeared in Santa Monica, Calif., local police had issued almost 100 citations to users. Melissa Overton, public information officer of the University of Michigan’s Division of Public Safety and Security, said on Monday the University police had not issued any tickets involving Bird scooters. Representatives from the Ann Arbor Police Department did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.

Users must be 18 or older with a credit card and driver’s license to operate the scooters. The Bird’s electric motor is activated through an app, and the scooters emit loud chirping if moved without being activated through the app. They do not have to be left at a docking station, as some other transportation startups require, including MoGo bikes in Detroit.

They cost $1 to use, with an additional charge of 15 cents per minute of usage. The scooters are only intended to be active from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. 

According to the company’s website, it has launched operations in at least 41 cities, including Paris and Tel Aviv, Israel. On Aug. 16, Bird announced the beginning of its “University Pop-Up Tour.” 

“The Bird University Pop-Up Tour will visit a range of large public universities and smaller private colleges,” according to a company press release. “Colleges and universities interested in signing up for the Bird University Pop-Up Tour are encouraged to email universities@bird.co for more information.”

In the release, Bird founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden said the pop-ups were designed to address the demand for transportation in college towns, which “often do not have robust public transit programs and heavily rely on pollution-emitting cars for short-distance trips on or around campus.”

“This year, as the summer comes to a close and students return to campus, they might be able to leave their cars behind by Birding,” VanderZanden said. “Whether it’s making it to a class on time, clocking in for work, or simply getting to campus from the nearest public transit stop, Bird will help eliminate transportation gaps so students and faculty can focus on what really matters: education.”

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald confirmed the University had received no notice from Bird about the deployment of the scooters.

“The Bird scooter company did not seek permission from U-M regarding the company’s deployment of scooters in Ann Arbor,” Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily. “That appears to be the company’s approach: Not seeking permission in advance. As motorized vehicles, it is my understanding that scooters are not allowed on campus sidewalks and are subject to all regulations under U-M ordinances as motor vehicles.”

Currently, some cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver have made attempts to ban the scooters altogether, but most are simply cautioning safety and promising to enforce local laws if the scooters create violations.

Regardless of their future in Ann Arbor, students are taking advantage of the opportunity the scooters present. LSA junior Seth Allen had used the scooters in Detroit, but was not expecting to see them on campus. Since Friday, though, Allen has signed up to be a charger, bringing home scooters at night to charge and returning them in the morning for monetary compensation –– a position for which “there’s not really a screening process,” Allen said. After reading a three-page set of instructions on how to be a charger, Allen sent the company his address and is now waiting to receive the charging equipment.

“From what the map said, it seemed to be anywhere from five to 20 dollars for charging it, depending on how hard it is to find and how much it needs to be charged,” Allen said. “It’s really not that much of a commitment, and I would make enough money to have a free lunch every now and then.”