Monday, August 6, 2018

City orders Bird to remove its scooters from Charleston streets, citing safety hazards

As of Monday morning, no scooters were available on the company's app

Posted by Adam Manno on Mon, Aug 6, 2018 at 2:46 PM

click to enlarge Bird, a California-based scooter-share company, kicked off its Charleston pilot program this past weekend. - INSTAGRAM.COM/BIRD
  • instagram.com/bird
  • Bird, a California-based scooter-share company, kicked off its Charleston pilot program this past weekend.
The City of Charleston has sent a cease and desist letter to California-based Bird after the scooter-share company dropped dozens of motorized, app-activated scooters throughout the peninsula on Saturday.

By Monday morning, no scooters were available for rent on the app, and a letter sent by city officials to the startup Monday afternoon may have something to do with it.

It looks like Bird began operating in Charleston without a business license even after the city told them that was illegal.

"Over the weekend, City of Charleston police officers observed BIRD scooters that were left unattended haphazardly on the City's sidewalks creating trip hazards and eye sores," wrote city attorney Steve Ruemelin in the letter made available to the public Monday afternoon. "The illegal scooter rental program is creating an endangerment to the public health and safety and is further creating a public nuisance on the City's streets and sidewalks, interfering with the right of the public to use the public rights of way in a safe and unobstructed fashion in violation of Sec. 21- 51(2) Code of the City of Charleston."

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
Ruemelin also cites Section 54-223 of the city's code, which prohibits the "short term rental of amusement and recreational vehicles" south of Mount Pleasant Street. Amusement and recreational vehicles are defined as "mopeds, golf carts, low speed vehicles, scooters or skateboards powered by fuel or batteries."

The city itself has not removed any scooters at this point, according to city spokesperson Chloe Field. Bird Rides, Inc. applied for a business license in Charleston sometime last week, but the application process was not completed after city officials determined that the business plan violated city rules.

A spokesperson for the S.C. Department of State told City Paper that no company "resembling" Bird was registered to operate in the state.

The nascent scooter-share industry β€” a hip, Silicon Valley-funded transportation alternative for short trips β€” has been the source of headaches for pedestrians and city officials across the country. Bird's dock-less scooters are unlocked via a smartphone app and don't need to be returned anywhere in particular, leaving open the possibility for obstructions and accidents.

Bird's scooters are calibrated to go a maximum of 15 miles per hour, and they cost $1 to unlock and 15 cents a minute, according to the company. They're only available for use during the day. Under normal operation, they're parked at "nests" throughout the city by 7 a.m., where riders can pick them up at sunrise.

The letter to Bird says the city will consider it a violation every time a scooter is rented and "each day a scooter remains in the city." The Charleston Police Department will also impound any scooter left unattended and considered to pose a danger to pedestrians or motor vehicles.

Charleston's cease and desist mirrors that of Nashville, where the local government also sent Bird a cease and desist letter after two days. That was followed by a request for a court injunction and two rounds of scooter sweeps by the city, according to The Tennessean. The company eventually agreed to suspend service in Nashville until the city came up with an ordinance to regulate it.

When Bird landed in Charleston over the weekend, locally-based Gotcha, which runs bike and scooter-share operations nationwide including Holy Spokes in Charleston, said it's important for initiatives like theirs to be fully considered before they're implemented.

"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," Gotcha said in a statement.

In a statement Monday, a Bird spokesperson seemed to view the weekend as a trial run.

"After testing a pilot program over the weekend, Bird has agreed to remove its scooters from Charleston," according to the company. "We look forward to working with city officials on a framework that would allow our reliable transportation option to be available, and we are hopeful that we will be back on the streets soon to help the people of Charleston more easily move around their city."

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