The Bird has had quite a turbulent flight this summer.
August was a particularly tumultuous month for the sleek little electric scooters scattered throughout Los Angeles and other urban areas across the nation, which customers can use via a mobile phone app. Whether it be Lime, Bird or Spin, local governments have been making more and more moves to further regulate the notoriously trendy yet unsightly vehicles. Particularly in Los Angeles County – the nesting place of the Bird – there’s been quite a bit of talk lately about how to best regulate them, with a recent cap and pilot program being introduced in the city of Los Angeles, ultimately raising questions about the future of the electric scooter-share industry.
Now don’t worry just yet – you’ll still be able to grab a Bird scooter on the way to class if you’re running late or just feeling a little bit lazy. The new rules and regulations regarding electric scooter usage and their owners essentially work to limit the number of scooters available in Los Angeles, keeping them down to a total of 3,000 scooters within city limits. Additionally, the new program includes a number of other rules, such as keeping scooter speeds down to 15 miles per hour, as well as requiring companies to establish a 24-hour hotline system to report abuse and misuse of the scooters.
The new rules are all just another part of the months-long debate on how cities like LA should best respond to the arrival of these scooters. It goes back all the way to when they first started popping up in town – many students will likely remember when UCPD began its crackdown on Bird-riders who weren’t following the proper rules of the road back in February, but even before they came to Westwood, the city of Santa Monica was making plenty of traffic stops for negligent Bird users.
A big part of why officials have had so much difficulty enacting laws regarding scooter-share companies is that the companies have a tendency to suddenly pop up, without notifying the city beforehand – this is exactly what happened with Bird in the Boston area and in Cincinnati. Shortly thereafter, cities often respond with a cease-and-desist letter and the battle to set regulatory measures ensues.
These summer months have been equally controversy-centered. On Aug. 13, Bird and Lime both locked all of their scooters in Santa Monica in response to a City Council meeting taking place that day, in which councilmembers discussed whether or not to renew the companies’ permits to operate in the city. In a press release, the companies also encouraged their customers in the area to gather outside of Santa Monica City Hall that evening to show their support for the scooters.
Bird and similar electric scooter sharing programs have been notoriously difficult for lawmakers to regulate. The city of Santa Monica has been working for quite some time on its own pilot program, proposing a cap of only 1,500 scooters in the city back in June, ultimately settling on a flexible cap of 2,000 in August, along with similar rules and regulations to Los Angeles’ pilot program. The cap mimics that of other cities, such as San Francisco, and Austin, Texas.
One scooter sharing company has not received a single cease-and-desist letter: Skip. According to a Vox article published Sept. 7, the e-scooter company has not had much trouble setting up business in other cities. But how? The answer is simple: They notified cities and worked together with them before actually leaving the scooters out for the public, ensuring that they don’t surprise anybody by their arrival. However, Skip is also far less widespread than Bird and Lime, with scooters available in only three cities – on the other hand, Bird has scooters in three countries and more than 70 cities.
Interestingly, Santa Monica has been relatively lenient compared to other cities. In August, San Francisco only offered permits to two scooter sharing companies, Scoot and Skip with only about 1,250 scooters in a city that has almost 10 times as many residents as Santa Monica. And earlier this month, the city of Birmingham, Alabama began impounding Bird scooters, which only arrived in the city Aug. 28; the company could also face fines of up to $500 for each scooter left illegally on the city’s sidewalks.
While other cities are just beginning their journey to regulate them, the future of the scooters in Los Angeles and Santa Monica seems to be set until the cities’ pilot programs end. After that, we’ll just have to see which direction the Bird flies.