Bird Arrives Downtown, ‘Lil Lectric’ Scooters Not Without Controversy

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This pair of Birds was spotted near 10th and Walnut Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Matt Staub)

By Kevin Collison

The Bird quietly scooted into downtown Kansas City Wednesday, a new smartphone-based personal transportation method that like its predecessors Lyft and Uber, is not without controversy elsewhere.

The dock-free electric scooters, which are rented using a smartphone app, are billed as an ideal way for people to roll that last few blocks to their destination. The LA-based company has scattered its fleet in flocks of three throughout greater downtown.

“Today, Bird began offering its fleet of dock-free, electric scooters in Kansas City,” a company spokesperson said in a statement released Wednesday.

“We are excited to bring our affordable transportation option to the people and communities of Kansas City. Birds are perfect for those “last mile” trips that are too long to walk, but too short to drive.”

Since starting in Santa Monica last September, Bird has grown to become a $2 billion company and provides its scooter service in more than 20 cities, according to CNN Tech.

It was started by Travis VanderZanden, a former executive at Lyft and Uber.

But while it’s billed as an easy way to get around short distances without using a car, the firm’s free-wheeling ways have gotten it in trouble in some cities. Just this week, St. Paul, MN, city officials yanked Bird from its streets the day after it was introduced because it had failed to get a permit to use city right-of-way.

The Bird also has been banned in Denver, San Francisco and Nashville.

One of the major complaints have been the haphazard way people have used the scooters and the clutter they’ve caused to sidewalks.

As opposed to the Kansas City B Cycle racks around Kansas City, there are no docking places for Birds. Instead, Birds go home to ‘roost’ at the end each day and are put back on the street in the morning at 7 a.m.

“Each night, Birds are picked up for storage, charging and any necessary repairs,” according to a company release. “This helps keep riders safe and Birds in good condition. It also keeps Birds from cluttering sidewalks.

“In the morning, Birds are parked at ‘nests,’ which are conveniently located for riders across our markets. There are typically three Birds at each nest.”

Kansas City officials say its in “conversations” with Birds to learn more about their plans.

“The city supports innovation and transportation options,” said city spokesman Chris Hernandez.

“Since this is a transportation option that uses the public right of way and city infrastructure, we want to make sure we have a full understanding of how it works, which will help us determine how it fits into existing laws, and what revisions might be considered.”

Bird considers itself a cleaner option for people to get around than cars.

“Right now, more than one-third of cars trips in the U.S. are less than two miles long,” a spokesperson said. “Bird’s mission is to replace these trips – get people out of their cars, reduce traffic and congestion, and cut carbon emissions.”

The firm also has offered a “Save Our Sidewalks” Pledge to work collaboratively with city officials to prevent causing pedestrian problems. It also has offered to provide cities a $1 per vehicle per day remittance with the intent of helping pay for shared infrastructure.

To use Bird, riders must first download the smartphone app. You must upload a valid driver’s license to confirm you’re at least 18 years old. Helmets will be provided by Bird upon request.

It costs $1 to start each ride and 15 cents per minute following. A scooter can go a maximum of 15 mph and a charge typically least 15 miles. The firm offers a discount for military personnel and veterans called Red, White and Bird.

Birds are to be ridden in bike lanes and on the street, not sidewalks. At the end of the ride, Birds are to be parked out of the way of pedestrian pathways and at bike racks where available.

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