Kick scooters (or just scooters) are not new transportation technology. In fact, they’re as low tech as it gets when discussing mobility. Filling the mobility tier above just plain ol’ walking, scooters are generally seen as a children’s toy. In fact, tykes and pre-teens who didn’t own one in the early Aughts were rare after the Razor Model A, a compact folding scooter, was named the Spring/Summer Toy of the Year in 2000.
But since when are toys just for kids? Today, with an economic boom fueling increases in urban density that leads to more traffic and higher levels of greenhouse gases, cities are literally choking. Plus, college loan debt is crushing the youngest members of the workforce. Who needs a car when your feet, and an occasional scooter, can get you around your gentrified metropolis in no time?
Thus, the idea for electric scooter sharing came about as a way to redefine transportation while also minimizing carbon emissions. Not surprisingly, the founder of Bird is a former executive at Lyft and Uber, the leading ridesharing companies.
Priced to Ride
Starting in Santa Monica in September 2017, Bird’s fleet of motorized scooters is now available in more than 100 cities worldwide. Completely app-based, the company wants you to know a few things before downloading: riders must be at least 18 years old, have a valid driver’s license, and must operate the scooters in metropolitan areas.
If this sounds like you, go ahead and set up an account. The Bird app will then use your smartphone’s location to provide a map of nearby scooters and detailed information like each one’s current battery charge. Bird scooters are available from 7:00 a.m. until sundown.
You can reserve a scooter or pick one up on the fly. To unlock one that isn’t already booked, scan the QR code on the data hub located between the scooter’s handles. The base fare is $1 with per-minute charges of 15 and 20 cents, depending on the city. There are no mileage fees or surge pricing; time is the only factor when it comes to billing.
Of course, there are other charges should you prove negligent. Rental periods max out at 24 hours, at which point the scooter will deactivate. However, you can immediately unlock it and start a new rental. Also, Bird may charge a $25 service fee for a rental in excess of 24 hours. The maximum daily charge is $100, but is based on a calendar day and not a 24-hour period of time.
After 48 hours, though, if the scooter is not returned, it will be considered lost or stolen. Then, Bird charges the last rider to borrow the scooter $500. A police report could be filed as well. At that point, you’re halfway towards owning your own e-scooter outright. Minus the police report, of course.
The actual act of riding a scooter should be easy to grasp because it requires fewer balancing skills than a bicycle and less energy than that old-school Razor.
To get an e-scooter going, place one foot on the footboard and push off with your opposite foot a couple of times. When you’re comfortably balanced, push down on the throttle button located on the right handlebar, which you’ll use as you travel along.
Brake control is on the left handlebar. Depending on model, this could be a standard pull lever or a push button like for the throttle. Either way, the brakes are always on the left and the throttle is always on the right.
Because this is a motorized vehicle with maximum speeds up to 15 mph, there are rules to follow. Keep these in mind while riding with Bird:
- Ride alone. No passengers allowed – ever
- The maximum total weight limit is 200 lbs.
- Wear a helmet. In many cities, especially in California, it’s the law
- Use hands-free devices only
- Ride only on the road or in bike lanes. Stay off sidewalks
- No racing, stunts, or tricks – obviously
Safety is a priority, and Bird has established safety campaigns that include providing free helmets (you can request one via the app) and reminding riders of the “rules of the road.”
Rental Return Made Easy
Ending your Bird rental is easier than starting it. Because Bird and its competitors are dock-less scooter-share services, there are no designated racks or areas for returns. No pop-up stores. No service shops. No charging stations. You can pretty much leave the scooter anywhere. Not that you should.
Ideally, they should be parked near bike racks, which already have a dedicated space along city streets and sidewalks. Otherwise, if there are no racks near your final destination, do leave the scooter in a visible and public area that doesn’t impede vehicular or pedestrian traffic. This means no blocking sidewalks, driveways, or wheelchair-accessible ramps.
Park the scooter in an upright position using the kickstand. You’ll lock the scooter via the app the same way you unlocked it. But before you do, you’ll have to take a photo of its location so that other riders and Bird-assigned “chargers” can locate it. Chargers, by the way, are a team of approved contractors who pick up the scooters for overnight charging. They’ll then redistribute them at designated locations for the next round of riders.
But what if the scooter runs out of power before your ride ends? Your rental will end automatically, and you won’t be charged further. What if you can’t return your rental to a valid area? In that case, you can request a scooter pick-up, but that comes with a $120 fee.
According to Bird, 40% of car trips are less than three miles in length. That’s a long way to walk, even for the most determined New Yorker.
While not everyone is adept with bike riding, many are almost always looking for a cheaper commuting option than a car. Companies like Bird and Lime (Bird’s biggest competitor) offer that, but just as ridesharing disrupted car service, scooter sharing is not without faults.
At the onset of this on-demand sharing-of-things economy, cities didn’t know what to do. After adjusting to the likes of Uber with ride sharing and Citibike with bike sharing, now localities must acknowledge and acclimate to scooter sharing. While considered an eco-friendly convenience to some, others consider the proliferation of e-scooters the newest, most vile of nuisances.
But now that Bird, Lime, et. al. have grown in popularity, riders (and there were many) who initially disregarded local laws and even scooter-share companies’ own loan agreements, may now face consequences. Cities will adapt, as will local laws and regulations so that everyone can share the road. So, stay informed, stay safe, and stay out of trouble.