A new way of commuting is available in parts of Louisville, but the company behind it has created controversy in other U.S. cities.
Mobile ride-sharing company Bird has set up powered scooters — imagine your childhood razor scooter with a motor — in multiple places downtown, in the Highlands and a few other spots in Louisville. So-called “Bird Nests,” or scooter locations, popped up seemingly overnight.
Through a mobile app, people can find scooters nearby, see how much charge they have and unlock them for use. Once a scooter is unlocked, users must give the scooter a little kickstart by pushing off on the ground and then use a lever on the handlebar to adjust the speed for the rest of the trip. At the end of the ride, users must re-lock the scooter with the app.
A ride on a Bird scooter costs $1 to get started and $0.15 per minute. At the end of the day, the scooters are collected and returned to a home base for charging.
Bird Scooters are here! Just found out that our office will be a Bird Nest, meaning we will have scooters parked on our sidewalk early every morning. Quick ride to the gym anyone? #birdscooter #glms pic.twitter.com/UXIk447Km0
— Bert Guinn (@BertGuinn) July 19, 2018
Similar to when Lyft and Uber first popped up in cities across the United States, the appearance of Bird and similar companies appearance has been controversial. Cities across the country have been suspending companies like Bird from operating because of public safety concerns.
The app encourages riders to park their scooters on bike racks and away from public walkways. However, tensions in other cities rose following complaints of people leaving the scooters in the middle of the sidewalk and other public spaces.
Both Louisville and Bird officials told Insider that they are working together.
“Bird has reached out to the city of Louisville and is looking forward to having productive conversations with city officials to build a framework that supports affordable and accessible transportation options,” a spokesperson from Bird said in an emailed comment.
An emailed statement from the city, however, says the launch of Bird was not expected to happen so quickly.
“Bird scooters is an innovative, sustainable concept that compliments the city’s goal of increasing multi-modal options for residents across the city. City representatives had been working with Bird to prepare a safe launch of their product in Louisville and to establish measures that would protect Bird users as well pedestrians, car, TARC, and bike riders alike,” according to the statement. “Bird’s launch today was premature, and we encourage them to continue working with city officials to implement their product into our city’s transportation network safely and equitably.”
Walking down Main Street, you are bound to come across several of the scooters, randomly placed on the edges of the sidewalk. One can be found outside of 21c Museum Hotel.
Valet Andrew Whiteman, who has worked at 21c for five years, said today was the first time he had seen or heard about the scooters. He hadn’t tried to ride one yet but said he was open to the idea and could see it being convenient.
When asked if he thought the scooters could become a safety issue like in other cities, Whiteman said Louisville has less foot traffic and crowded sidewalks, so he did not foresee any issues. He said the hotel currently offers bikes for guests and could see them recommending the scooters in the future.
To regulate Bird’s operations, some cities, including Indianapolis, have set a fee for dock-less scooter companies. Indianapolis plans to charge scooter companies $15,000 up front, plus $1 a day per device to operate in the city, according to the Indianapolis Star.
Nashville city officials recently issued a cease-and-desist letter to the company, saying the scooters blocked sidewalks and violated metro codes, according to the Tennessean. The decision was made just two days after the scooters made their debut, and the company was given 15 days to remove all of the scooters.
Once that time passed, the city began confiscating the rides. There were about 250 scooters in circulation, Metro Public Works Department confiscated 150 scooters they deemed illegally parked, the Tennessean reported.
Other cities have created fines aimed at people using the scooters. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the deputy city attorney declared the scooters illegal and created a $98.80 fine for riders in late June. On July 6, the city filed a lawsuit against the startup for refusing to cease operations. A week later, Bird attorneys moved the case to federal court.
Despite all of the fines and legal efforts, Bird is reportedly doing well in Milwaukee. Bird has rented scooters over 6,900 times in the city and raised $300 million in the latest funding round, the Journal Sentinal story states.
According to Reuters, Bird is now valued at $2 billion.