Electric scooter rentals may be coming to San Luis Obispo, but not Thursday, as scooter company Bird had planned. City officials said they’ve been in contact with Bird, which deploys e-scooters and runs an app that allows electric vehicle sharing. It appears the company had planned a “rogue launch” of its e-scooters without city approval.
Electric scooters are one of the newest trends in ride sharing services. You download an app, find a scooter and go for a ride. It usually costs a small fee to rent and then around 15 to 20 cents for each minute. The fastest the vehicles can go is usually about 15 miles per hour.
Cities, pedestrians and drivers have often complained that e-scooters are left strewn about streets and sidewalks. Bird’s business model is to hire “chargers”—people who pick up the scooters, charge them at home and then “release” them the next day.
According to an email to a potential San Luis Obispo charger obtained by KCBX, the company had a meet and greet or “M&G” scheduled Wednesday night. In the email, a Bird representative said San Luis Obispo officials spoke to Bird and they, “mutually agreed to push back our launch,” and that Bird did not have a new meet and greet scheduled.
Interim Deputy City Manager Greg Hermann said the city has been in direct communication with the company, and that Bird won’t be deploying Thursday morning, as it had planned. Hermann said San Luis Obispo “may be a good fit for scooter sharing, but just like any business, it will need proper permits to ensure the safety of riders and the community.”
Electric scooter “rogue launches” have taken place in cities around the world recently, often drawing ire from city officials and being banned in others. In Santa Barbara this summer, e-scooter company LimeBike did not get permission from the city to run a scooter launch. The company dropped their scooters on the street anyway. Police impounded the scooters, and at least one city councilmember chastised the company. The Santa Barbara city council passed an emergency ordinance to regulate scooter rentals, but staff have yet to come up with rules or an application process for scooter companies.
A representative for the San Luis Obispo Police Department said the city attorney’s office is handling the issue.
Bird did not return requests for comment in time for publication. On its website, as part of its "S.O.S. or Save our Sidewalks Pledge," Bird CEO and founder Travis VanderZanden said the company will work to keep sidewalks decluttered through daily scooter pickup, removal of unused scooters, and an offer to “remit $1 per vehicle per day to city governments so they can use this money to build more bike lanes, promote safe riding, and maintain our shared infrastructure.”
Bird e-scooters are in cities across the United States, including California cities like Venice, Santa Monica, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego. According to Business Insider, Bird is valued at $2 billion.
UPDATE Thursday, September 13, 2018 at 1 pm: A Bird representative contacted KCBX News by email with the following statement: "Bird looks forward to meeting the San Luis Obispo city officials so that we can soon bring our affordable, environmentally friendly service to the SLO community. We are committed to working closely with every city in which we operate, and we are thrilled to kick off this process with San Luis Obispo next week."