IF YOU haven’t heard of Bird, you probably will soon. But I’m not talking about our fine feathered friends.
If you’ve been to Atlanta lately, you know what I mean: The app-based electric scooter rental service competing with Uber and Lyft as the choice for a short-distance “last mile” travel option.
I’d be shocked if you don’t see them soon in Savannah. It seems a matter of time.
Over the course of a couple of months, parts of Atlanta have already become flooded with flocks of Birds, littering sidewalks when unused and posing increasing hazards to pedestrians when in use.
Bird works like this: You use the app to find the closest parked scooter, usually on a sidewalk or street corner but sometimes more whimsically hidden by the previous customer. You pay a dollar to unlock the Bird, and then 15 cents per per minute to scoot wherever you want to go.
And then... you abandon the Bird right there at your stop, to be ridden by the next closest customer who tracks it via the app.
The company contracts “Bird chargers” to round up the Birds at the end of the day, paying them a per-scooter fee to use their own electricity to recharge the scooter’s battery and place them back on the streets.
On the West Coast, where Bird first got a talon-hold, there is already what’s being called a “charger culture” of highly competitive contractors.
Like any of the new “disruptive” sharing economy technologies such as Uber, Airbnb, etc., it all sounds great on paper. (Indeed, Bird was started in California by an ex-Uber exec.)
In this case, disruptive might be the key word. The people who love to use Birds really love them. And the people who hate Birds really hate them.
There doesn’t seem to be much room in between. And as happened with Airbnb, it looks like there might be yet another civic fault line for us all to navigate, neighborhood by neighborhood.
Charleston, S.C., is going through a battle with the company as we speak. First, Bird made a “pilot program” drop of scooters in downtown Charleston on Aug. 4.
But Bird didn’t have a business license to operate, and within 48 hours, they received a cease-and-desist order.
The very next day, Bird started another “pilot program” in Mt. Pleasant over the Cooper River. Police there began rounding up Birds for the company to pick up — not the wisest use of public resources.
Nashville has also sent the company a cease-and-desist. Bird was also forced out of Louisville, Ky.
The main issue with Bird is that the scooters themselves impede public rights-of-way to an often ridiculous extent.
How disruptive is “disruptive?”
From mid-April to late May, San Francisco’s 311 line fielded an incredible 1,873 scooter-related calls!
The L.A. Times reports this week that fed-up residents in Santa Monica are waging what the paper calls a “guerrilla war” against Birds, by vandalizing them in increasingly imaginative ways.
I personally wouldn’t use a Bird simply because I already know people who’ve had to go to the ER after using them (almost no Bird user wears a helmet).
In my experience in Atlanta, the Birds are yet another slap in the face to pedestrians —walking already being a difficult enough way to get around there.
I can’t count the times I’ve either almost tripped over one, or several, or been nearly sideswiped by a Bird rider on the sidewalk (they can go up to 20 miles an hour!)
And I have seen intoxicated people do some really foolish things on them.
I realize we’re all supposed to reflexively embrace new app-based technologies in the modern sharing economy.
But in Bird’s case, there is a clear safety hazard, and what seems to be an unethical or even illegal business practice to boot.
I asked Michelle Gavin, spokesperson for the City of Savannah, if there are any plans to proactively address the issue. She says there is no concrete plan at the moment, but the City is aware of the issues.
“The City is just beginning the conversation about scooters,” Gavin tells me. “While they could possibly help with the ‘last mile’ issue of transportation, they can become a quality of life issue if left unregulated.”
In the meantime, keep an eye out for Birds landing near you.