Blowback Rising Against Electric Scooter Companies

Electric Scooters (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty)
Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty

Blowback is rising against Bird and other companies providing all-electric scooter rentals that are taking over the streets and sidewalks of California’s major metro areas.

Dockless scooters that rent at $1, plus $.15 a minute, are the hottest transportation trend in 2018 — and Bird, as the first mover in the space, is dominating. But cities are cracking down over nuisance and safety concerns, with San Francisco temporarily banning 1,800 scooters until their sponsoring companies agree to make sure riders stay in bike lanes, wear helmets, and don’t just leave the bikes sprawled across sidewalks.

Financial Times reported on June 28 that the venture capitalist-dominated board of Bird, the dockless scooter rental firm that first launched in Santa Monica in May 2017, raised another $300 million in a fourth round of financing at the stunning valuation of $1.7 billion.

Founder Travis VanderZanden entered the sharing business after his on-demand car wash company Cherry was acquired by Lyft in 2013, and he became the company’s COO. He later jumped to Uber as its vice president of growth through September 2016.

In the last 16 months, Burd has used the $565 million in venture capital it raised to expand to 18 U.S. cities. But its viral success spawned another $500 million in VC backing for knock-off start-ups including Lime Bike, Spin, and Skip.

Although electric scooter riders are supposed to be 18 years old, have a California driver’s license, and wear their own helmets,  the bike rental is by cell phone app, and there is no way to prevent underage riders. The only Bird staff out on the streets are teen gig-working “Bird Hunters” that find and recharge the scooters each night.

The Santa Monica personal injury law firm of McGee, Lerer & Associates now specializes in electric scooter accidents from children riding scooters, riding scooters without helmets, riding on sidewalks, scooters abandoned in the middle of sidewalks, and tandem riding of scooters.

McGee, Lerer claim Bird & Lime scooters are exceptionally dangerous because they travel up to 15 miles per hour and “if a rider is struck by a car, serious injury, such as a brain injury or paralysis, or death can result.”

The California legislature is moving to pass AB 2989 as a bill to regulate electric scooter safety by limiting scooter speeds, making helmets mandatory, and other provisions. The major scooter rental companies have signed onto the bill.

Bird has is trying to clean up its public image by sponsoring a “Save Our Sidewalks” campaign that would require limiting the number of scooters on streets, and is hoping to gain good will by paying a $1 per day to cities for each bike in its fleet.

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