Technology

Banned in other cities, these Bird electric scooters have arrived in Kansas City

Bird electric scooters are subject to the same traffic laws that must be observed by bicyclists, meaning, for example, a $40 fine plus court costs for riding on sidewalks or failure to use a bike lane.
Bird electric scooters are subject to the same traffic laws that must be observed by bicyclists, meaning, for example, a $40 fine plus court costs for riding on sidewalks or failure to use a bike lane. The Star

Early Wednesday morning, about a hundred Birds flocked to Kansas City.

But these Birds don't fly. They scoot.

The Los Angeles-based scooter rental company Bird lets users of its app find electric scooters near them, unlock them using the app and pay as they go. It's in more than 20 cities nationwide. It costs $1 to start a ride and 15 cents per minute. The scooters top out at 15 mph.

The company tracks the scooters using GPS and pays designated “chargers” between $5 and $20 to pick up the scooters and charge them at home. The "chargers" then bring the scooters to their “nests” scattered in downtown, the Crossroads, River Market and 18th and Vine.

For John Ruhlman, the flexibility and easy money of being a "charger" is appealing, and he and about 30 other people attended a launch event by the airport Tuesday night, where they learned more about the company.

“I’m going to give it a shot,” said Ruhlman, who lives outside of Liberty. “I can make a little extra money, I don’t have to deal with other people, and I have space in my garage. … I can get up early and drop them off and get back home before the rush hour.”

Another "charger," Michael Bogart, said he took his six charged Birds downtown to their "nests" around 4 a.m. Wednesday. From his home in Brookside, it took about half an hour to get the scooters in place, all in a row, with their kickstands out in their designated spots.

"I think it's awesome and they help people get around," said Bogart, who said he's ridden Segways and hoverboards before.

"I'm a millennial. I act like it."

But Birds haven't been trouble-free. The company has not yet gotten approval from the city to place its scooters in public areas like sidewalks around downtown. Cities like Denver and San Francisco have banned Bird, with critics saying that people often just leave the scooters wherever. There’s even a hashtag: #ScootersBehavingBadly.

Ruhlman said he hopes the city doesn’t immediately try to ban Bird after its launch locally.

“Do I do this once and the city is like, ‘Nope, you’re done’? I’ve got six of them to charge, so that’s $30.”

City spokesman Chris Hernandez sent the following statement to The Star about Bird.

"The city supports innovation and transportation options, and we are having conversations with Bird to learn more about their plans for the Kansas City market. Since this is a transportation option that uses the public right of way and city infrastructure, we want to make sure we have a full understanding of how it works, which will help us determine how it fits into existing laws, and what revisions might be considered."

Eric Rogers, executive director of BikeWalkKC, said they are offering some advice to the city in terms of policies regarding the scooters.

Rogers said he has heard of issues in other cities where the scooters clog up rights of way, block sidewalks and cause issues for those in wheelchairs. He said he thinks there are some common-sense regulations that could be put in place to make sure "everyone is safe and benefits."

Specifically, BikeWalkKC is suggesting dedicated areas for the scooters to be placed and potentially adding some sort of way to attach them to bike racks or poles to keep them off of sidewalks.

"We're supportive of anything that gives people options beyond driving," Rogers said. "Scooters are something that help get people out of cars, and they're a good complement to things like bike share, transit and street car.

"But we're disappointed this company would launch before the city has a chance to get some rules and regulations in place."

A Bird spokesman said that the company will increase the number of scooters and neighborhoods for "nests" as ridership grows.

Bird is known for taking a “beg forgiveness rather than ask permission” attitude in cities across the country, similar to Uber and other ride-sharing companies when they first started.

“That’s the Silicon Valley way,” Ruhlman said.

Here are the differences in Lime and Bird, the two scooter companies in Charlotte.

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