Electric scooter startup Bird is riding high these days.
The company has worked aggressively to cover the streets and footpaths of San Francisco, as well as other US cities, with motorised vehicles that are like Razor scooters for grown-ups. People can reserve a local scooter from a smartphone app, ride for a small fee, and leave the scooter anywhere at the end of a journey.
Led by a former Uber and Lyft executive, Bird has previously raised $US115 million to expand nationwide. But the company’s rise to success hasn’t been without speed bumps. Starting on June 4,San Francisco will ban scooters from companies including Bird, Spin, and Lime, unless the companies operating the vehicles have a permit.
I pass at least a dozen electric scooters on the streets of San Francisco on my daily commute, so I recently rented an electric scooter from Bird to try it for myself.
Here’s what it was like to rent and try the Bird electric scooter:
The Bird has landed in San Francisco, and people have very mixed feelings about it.
“A few weeks ago, I had not noticed any electric scooters in SF. Now you can’t exit a building without tripping over one,” M.G. Siegler, a general partner at Google Ventures, tweeted in April.
It’s true. Starting in March, three startups — Bird, Lime, Spin — rolled out hundreds of motorised scooter rentals in downtown San Francisco in the span of a few weeks. Now they’re everywhere.
Some people have commended the scooter startups for giving people a cheap, easy way to get around while reducing their reliance on cars and easing congestion on public transit.
Others are annoyed. The proliferation of scooters has created crowding on city footpaths, because the vehicles don’t use docking stations like some electric-bike-sharing startups.
If a workday in San Francisco goes by without nearly getting killed by a motorized scooter/unicycle, did I really work today
— Alex (@AlexGKummert) April 10, 2018
what on earth would possess a person to think that the direct center of the fucking sidewalk is an ok place to park their stupid fucking scooter pic.twitter.com/Z6UuE2Y7jS
— the hermit of mink hollow ???? (@monsoonbb) April 9, 2018
The trouble with the new electric scooters: they end up as litter on #sf streets. I’m pro scooter but anti-these scooters. Poorly constructed. It’s a small city! Just walk. #limebike #bird pic.twitter.com/fZk8pnUy94
— Jess McCuan (@jessdujour) April 11, 2018
I wasn’t sure where I stood on the issue, so I decided to give Bird a whirl.
I left my office building in downtown San Francisco and found three scooters (all “Birds”) located just outside the entrance.
Honestly, this thing just looks fun to ride. It’s a stand-up vehicle like the Razor scooter that I cruised around on as a kid. But the Bird scooter is tricked out with a motor and a battery.
It reaches speeds up to 15 mph. By comparison, Uber’s JUMP bikes top out at 19 mph.
After downloading the app and creating a login, a map appeared showing me nearby Birds. The closer I zoomed in, the more detail I could make out — like each scooter’s battery charge.
When you find a Bird near you, you tap the button to unlock it. The app prompts you to snap a photo of the scooter’s QR code and (on your first rental) scan your driver’s licence.
Renting a Bird costs $US1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute of use. I was ready to ride!
To start the scooter, you kick off three times, then push the throttle button with your thumb.
It went a little something like this.
— Melia Russell (@meliarobin) April 13, 2018
You squeeze with the right hand to accelerate and brake with the left.
The scooter responded to the lightest touch. There were a few lurches in the beginning as I learned how to handle the acceleration, and I was glad to be in an alley away from traffic.
Almost immediately, I understood the appeal of Bird. It was fast, fun, and easy to manoeuvre, though I didn’t feel comfortable turning corners. Instead, I applied the brake and pedaled.
In a construction area with uneven pavement and loose gravel, the Bird handled the road like it was skating on ice. The extra-wide tires provided a smooth, comfortable ride.
The footboard was plenty wide for my feet, but I imagine it would be a tighter fit for men.
The footboard had some reminders: State law requires scooter riders to wear a helmet. You must be over the age of 18, have a valid driver’s licence, and ride one person at a time.
Seeing as I didn’t have a helmet, I stayed in my comfort zone: The alley. Bird has been giving away free helmets to active riders since February, and I placed an order after my ride.
The helmet actually costs $US1 to cover the cost of shipping.
To end the ride, I opened the app and tapped the button to lock the scooter. The app showed me a ride time of 13 minutes and a cost of $US2.95 — a fraction of what my typical Uber ride costs.
I could see myself using Bird or another electric scooter-sharing company to reach parts of the city where there’s heavy traffic, so I could cruise past ride-share cars in the bike lane.
Do I still find these scooters everywhere to be slightly annoying? Yes. City officials in San Francisco have started issuing regulations around where the scooters can be left and how many are allowed.
San Francisco right now every block littered with these nuisance scooters. Also if you clip me on the sidewalk with one of these I will end you pic.twitter.com/cXmLcUrq6w
— Aaron Pride (@aaron_pride) April 12, 2018
.@AaronPeskin @HillaryRonen @ctuan Just watched an elderly couple have to gingerly sidle their way around this @BirdRide scooter left sprawled across the sidewalk near 24th/Mission BART. ???? Our sidewalks should be for walkers, joggers and wheelchair users. @VisionZeroSF pic.twitter.com/zuA8EPuMcy
— Carol Scott (@CarolScottSF) April 12, 2018
To help prevent littering, Bird has made a pledge to pick up all its vehicles nightly. It sends a team of employees and independent contractors called “chargers” to retrieve the scooters, charge them, and deploy the next day in areas where Bird predicts they will be used.
What do you think about the electric scooters taking over San Francisco? Let me know your thoughts by shooting me an email at [email protected]
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