An ex-Uber employee raised over $100 million to fill the streets of San Francisco with scooters that people can rent and toss anywhere -- here's how they work

Bird app screenshot and Kaylee Fagan/Business InsiderBird electric scooters are taking over San Francisco.

Bird, an electric-scooter-sharing company, has raised $US115 million (including $US100 million in March) to cover the streets and footpaths of San Francisco 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. The result is a citywide littering of scooters.

Led by a former Uber and Lyft executive, Bird raised over $US100 million in funding this year to expand across the US. But the company’s rise to success hasn’t been without speed bumps. This week, Bird issued a press release claiming city officials in San Francisco were trying to shut it down. San Francisco City Supervisor Aaron Peskin denied the claim to Business Insider.

I pass 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 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.

Universal PicturesTippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds.’

“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.

Bird

It’s true. Three startups — Bird, Lime, Spin —  rolled out hundreds of motorised scooter rentals in downtown San Francisco in the span of a few weeks. They’re everywhere.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

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.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

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.


I wasn’t sure where I stood on the issue, so I decided to give Bird a whirl.

Universal Pictures

I left my office building in downtown San Francisco and found three scooters (all “Birds”) located just outside the entrance.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

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.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

It reaches speeds up to 15 mph. By comparison, Uber’s JUMP bikes top out at 19 mph.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

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.

Bird app screenshot

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.

Bird app screenshot

Renting a Bird costs $US1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute of use. I was ready to ride!

Kaylee Fagan/Business InsiderNotice the Allbirds shoes. This is about as ‘San Francisco’ as it gets, people.

To start the scooter, you kick off three times, then push the throttle button with your thumb.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

It went a little something like this.


You squeeze with the right hand to accelerate and brake with the left.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

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.

Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider

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.

Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider

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.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The footboard was plenty wide for my feet, but I imagine it would be a tighter fit for men.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

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.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

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.

Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider

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.

Bird app screenshot and Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider

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. I would like to see the city create regulations that dictate where the scooters can be left and how many are allowed.

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.


Onward!

Bird

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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