How we get from point A to point B is rapidly changing in Detroit.
In the past two years we’ve watched the introduction of Zip Car and Maven as car sharing services. MOGO, the docked bicycle program in downtown, has taken off in a hurry. Now there’s a new pilot program in Detroit that has the potential to excite, or enrage, Detroiters if recent history in other cities is to be believed.
Bird scooters have begun popping up in downtown. On any given day you can find the electronic scooters in Campus Martius, Brush Park or along Jefferson.
The scooters are electronic, dock-less and part of a new trend in mobility that’s popping up across America. Riders download an app and have the capability of renting them by the minute to get from A to B. Bird sells itself to users as a “last mile” solution connecting it’s users from bus stops or the QLINE to their end destination. They allow you to grab a scooter and ride up to 15 mph to speed up short trips around the city.
A quick tutorial: You must have a drivers license to ride one, you need a smart phone so you can scan/sign into a scooter, and it’s recommended that you wear a helmet.
It’s a lot like Lyft in a way except you’re the driver and instead of a car you’re renting a scooter. Once you download the app, available for download here, you’re able to browse an interactive map that shows you where Bird scooters are positioned around the city for use. Once you find one you scan the code and unlock the scooter for a quick ride. It costs $1 to initiate a ride and $.15 per minute following.
“It actually sounds like something I would like,” said Cheven Kimbrough, a realtor that saw the scooters for the first time downtown. “It seems convenient for the majority, I don’t see why it wouldn’t do well in Detroit.”
According to Mark De La Vergne, Detroit’s chief mobility officer, a number of e-scooter companies have reached out to Detroit to discuss rolling out their products in the area. Bird is the first to market in what it’s calling a pilot program.
“This is emerging technology,” said De La Vergne. “We’ve talked to a lot of other cities who’ve seen Bird or other companies deploy scooters.”
De La Vergne said they worked with knowledge from other cities, and Bird, to develop best practices. He added that they’re monitoring how the company operates in Detroit, noting that added mobility to the city is always a positive thing.
So far Bird has been a welcome addition to Detroit — most people 7 Action News spoke with either applauded the idea, or said they hadn’t noticed them (they rolled out on Friday).
In some cities the rollout has been met with backlash for various reasons. Nashville has a temporary ban on the scooters, so does Indianapolis. In California a number of riders were so fed up with Bird, and a similar company called Lyme, that they started filming themselves destroying the scooters in creative ways ranging from burning them, tossing them off of buildings to riding them directly into water.
In Nashville two women were struck while riding Bird scooters, the drive drove away without stopping while ambulances rushed in to take the women to the hospital in critical condition. At that point the city had already ordered a cease-and-desist letter to Bird asking them to remove the scooters. Soon after the city began throwing them in the back of trucks and taking them off the streets themselves.
“A lot of the conversation has been keeping these things off the sidewalk whether they’re parked, or if they’re being ridden,” explained Freddie O’Connell, a council member in Nashville that oversees much of the downtown area.
O’Connell said the anger in his city developed when people began leaving 5-10 scooters outside of area businesses and obstructing the sidewalks. It became a bigger issue when riders ignored the recommendations of Bird, which tells riders to use bike lanes or roads, and started riding the scooters on the sidewalk.
“All of the sudden you have someone coming at you at 20 mph on the sidewalk, it’s an issue,” said O’Connell.
Bird scooters technically top out at 15 mph, but the problem seems to be focused on how many are on the sidewalk and where they’re located.
It appears that Bird is doing things differently than it has in the past. They’ve added a screen where you’re required to take a picture of the Bird scooter after you park it at your ending location. They’ve also launched a “Save Our Sidewalks” campaign since the initial reaction from people in several cities.
The “Save Our Sidewalks” pledge has three pillars: daily pickup of the scooters, a promise to only increase the number of scooters based on each vehicle being ridden at least three times per day, and to give back $1 per scooter day so that the city can use money to promote bike lanes.
While called a pilot program, there is no end date at this time for the “pilot.” A Bird spokesperson said that they’re working with the city of Detroit on how it operates within the city, noting that they’ve submitted necessary paperwork to operate in the city. As for issues with other cities, the spokesperson said that in some instances they pause operations while working to develop pilot frameworks.
“We are looking forward to testing our affordable, transportation option with the people and communities of Detroit, as they recognize the need for an accessible and reliable transit system," said a Bird spokesperson.