Wednesday, December 19

Submission: Enforcing geofencing could limit Birds nesting in inconsiderate locations

The UCLA community is buzzing with reports of lawsuits, accidents and UCPD crackdowns caused by Bird scooters. While students praise the service for providing easy and cheap transportation, Bird must be held responsible for the costs it is handing over to tax and tuition payers by allowing riders to ignore parking and traffic rules.

We have all frequently encountered the carefree dispersal of the scooters riders have finished using. Sidewalks, Americans with Disabilities Act-required ramps, roadways and even classroom hallways all provide a convenient resting place. But the ability to park scooters virtually anywhere on the road or on campus poses a significant financial and regulatory risk to Bird.

The fact that riders have no incentive to properly park the scooters reflects poorly on the company. Bird Rides Inc. must convince riders to park their scooters correctly – off the road, not obstructing pathways and outside of buildings, for example. This, however, runs counter to the personal incentives of riders, who receive maximum personal benefit from parking the scooter as close as possible to their final destination.

This issue caught my attention when I recently observed that a UCLA Housing employee was stationed at the base of the Covel “awkward steps” to make sure Bird scooters deposited by students did not block the walkway. The employee had been busy, reorganizing more than a dozen carelessly parked scooters in neat lines near the bike rack, even venturing to the side of the road to pluck one precariously jettisoned Bird away from the steady flow of street traffic. While I appreciate this employee’s hard work, UCLA should not have to bear the cost of careless scooter parking. This is Bird Rides Inc.’s prerogative.

Bird needs to take responsibility for where its scooters are parked. Failing to do so jeopardizes its success as a company. The company should incentivize its riders to park their scooters in appropriate locations by introducing a fee for careless parking that could be added to the ride total. The company should work with the city of Santa Monica and UCLA to implement approved drop-off areas that could be digitally created through geofencing.

Geofencing utilizes the GPS technology inherent in the scooters to virtually indicate if a physical object is at a certain predefined geographic location. This technology would allow Bird Rides Inc. to charge users for improperly parking their scooters, and financially encourage others to collect scooters and relocate them to appropriate parking places. Some tech-oriented readers might question the consistency of geofencing, but the accuracy of this technology is fundamental to the existing Bird platform, and the customer service appeal process already built into the Bird app can handle the limited number of discrepancies that may arise.

Bird needs to clean up its act and implement regulatory changes to ensure its scooters are properly used. Financial incentives would motivate riders to find appropriate parking places.

Shoemaker is a second-year business economics student.

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