Bird electric scooters ruffle city officials’ feathers with surprise launch

With no advance notice, flocks of Bird electric scooters appeared on Cincinnati sidewalks Thursday morning, according to The Enquirer.

Based on launches in Cincinnati and other cities, Santa Monica, California-based Bird seems to be following a “launch-first, permit-later” deployment strategy that has surprised and at times annoyed city officials. Bird places groups of scooters it calls “nests” on sidewalks in the morning and picks them up at sundown, apparently without prior notice to new municipalities.

According to Cincinnati spokesperson Casey Weldon, the city only heard about the Birds’ arrival Thursday morning. That same day, Weldon told The Enquirer, “Given that we just learned of the matter, we are still in the process of evaluating the possible impact on neighborhoods.”

On Friday, city officials didn’t know if Bird filed permits or took other steps prior to Thursday’s launch.

Electric scooters don’t fit Ohio’s traditional vehicle classifications. Ohio state officials say Bird scooters aren’t considered motor scooters because they lack seats and lights. Since the vehicles don’t match state definitions, riders don’t need to wear helmets or have motorcycle endorsements on drivers’ licenses.

Public transit is a problem in Cincinnati, where the bus system is running at a deficit. “The top priority still has to be a transformed, reliable public transit system that gets people to job,” City Councilman Greg Landsman said.

Landsman, who is the head of the council’s Transportation Committee, told The Enquirer the city isn’t sure how to deal with the Bird’s arrival, saying they “seem fun,” but that the city still has to do its homework.

Nashville, San Francisco, and Indianapolis have had their own Bird invasions. Nashville reacted by impounding scooters parked in the public right-of-way. San Francisco banned the electric 2-wheelers until the city came up with a permit system.

Indianapolis City Councilman Zach Adamson believes Bird selects cities that lack clear regulations for scooters in order to create chaos. Calling Bird scooters “a disaster” for Indianapolis, Adamson said Bird “launched” its scooters in the city at the same time officials were having discussions with other scooter-sharing companies.

“And when I say launched — you just woke up one day and they were here,” Adamson told The Enquirer.

When Indianapolis issued a cease-and-desist order, Bird eventually complied after first ignoring the order. The Indianapolis City Council passed a set of regulations that include a $15,000 annual fee plus $1 per day, per scooter for companies that operate in the city.

Cincinnati hasn’t yet decided how to handle the Birds on its sidewalks.

Bird’s website gives a different impression than the one conveyed by Indianapolis and Cincinnati representatives. Under the heading “Working with Cities” on the site’s home page, the company states, “We work closely with cities to help make transportation better and more environmentally friendly.”

Notably, while Indianapolis is included on the Bird website’s service deployment map, San Francisco, Nashville, and Cincinnati are not. 

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