Sunday, August 5, 2018

Looks like electric scooters are wheeling into Charleston anyway

We may have spoken too soon

Posted by Adam Manno on Sun, Aug 5, 2018 at 9:30 PM

click to enlarge Bird, a California-based scooter-share company, kicked off its Charleston pilot program this weekend. - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Bird, a California-based scooter-share company, kicked off its Charleston pilot program this weekend.
While a local bike-sharing company holds off on wreaking havoc on our precariously old streets, a California-based startup is swooping in for their share of the asphalt pie.

Two weeks after Charleston-based Gotcha announced that it would scoot into the scooter business away from the Holy City, scooter-share company Bird is announcing a Charleston pilot program of, you guessed it, "dock-free, low-speed electric scooters." The program kicked off on Sat. Aug. 4.

The budding industry of scooter-sharing — a breezy, fun, and arguably innovative concept — has led to headaches for pedestrians and city officials alike. Because dock-less scooters, like the ones now available in Charleston, don't need to be returned anywhere, they can be left everywhere. When the next rider is ready, he or she just has to unlock the nearest one with an app on their smartphone. 

click to enlarge Bird's smartphone app showed numerous scooters available downtown Sunday afternoon - SAM SPENCE
  • Sam Spence
  • Bird's smartphone app showed numerous scooters available downtown Sunday afternoon
Bird, which was founded last year in Santa Monica, Calif. by a former Uber and Lyft exec, sees its service as a novel, eco-friendly, and healthier alternative to short car trips.

"Currently, more than one-third of cars trips in the U.S. are less than two miles long, and Birds are perfect for those 'last mile' trips that are too long to walk, but too short to drive," said Bird spokesperson Mackenzie Long in a press release announcing their Charleston debut. "Our mission is to get people out of their cars, reduce traffic and congestion, and cut carbon emissions."

In Nashville, the local government sent Bird a cease and desist letter after two days of operation, according to The Tennessean, with one councilwoman citing obstructed sidewalks as part of the reason.

"We don’t have anything in place that would allow them to have started operating right off the bat," said Theresa Costonis, an attorney for Nashville's local government, in an interview with the newspaper.

In Bird's hometown of Santa Monica, the city government encouraged the company to validate its user's driver's licenses, and the city is now considering a pilot program that would cap the total number of scooters in the city at 1,500 managed by up to three providers, which could expand to 2,250 scooters through the end of 2019. One woman's Change.org petition, which seeks to restrict where the scooters are used in Santa Monica, has been signed by more than 1,500 people. The woman claims that her seven-year-old son broke his two front teeth and sliced his lip open after he was hit by a motorized scooter on a beach path on July 3.

From mid-April to late May, San Francisco's 311 line fielded 1,873 scooter-related calls, according to The New Yorker.

"The biggest challenge is that several cities and communities are having a negative backlash to this type of transportation because some companies are putting poor quality bikes and scooters into their communities without a plan," said Gotcha CEO Sean Flood in a statement after Bird's announcement. "So for cities like ours it’s even more important that transportation solutions are well thought out, strategically executed, and are based on ongoing dialogue with the community and the city.”

We've reached out to the City of Charleston about how they feel about the new service, and whether there are any plans to regulate it.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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