As the Minneapolis City Council considers imposing rules to govern the latest transportation craze — rental electric scooters — here’s what you need to know about the vehicles: from the legality of riding them drunk to why lawsuits have followed their introduction in other cities.
Last week, a California-based tech startup, Bird Rides Inc, dumped an unknown number of scooters on sidewalks in Minneapolis and St. Paul overnight. That’s typically the company’s process for launching in a new city.
Minneapolis officials had already been working on an ordinance to establish parking and licensing rules for the scooters, taking hints from their surprise appearance in other places around the country. The City Council will vote on that proposal Friday.
St. Paul took a less welcoming approach. Officials asked Bird to remove its fleet until they could decide how to regulate the scooters, citing city code that restricts equipment from blocking public rights of way without a permit. Those rights of way generally include sidewalks, alleys and public streets. Despite the request, the scooters remain on St. Paul sidewalks, which probably should not have come as a surprise: Bird has refused similar requests in other cities. A spokesperson for the city said this week officials continue to talk with the company and think about next steps.
Anyone who downloads Bird’s free mobile app can see the location of scooters near them. But it takes a driver’s license — users must scan their barcode — and approval of a user agreement to unlock one of the scooters for riding. That pledge stipulates that riders must be at least 18 and includes a promise to wear a helmet. Each trip costs a flat fee of $1, and an additional 15 cents per minute.
Once on board, riders can reach a maximum of 15 mph and travel as far as 15 miles — or the length of a fully-charged battery. They must avoid sidewalks and use bicycle paths and lanes, except ones reserved for “the exclusive use of non-motorized traffic,” under state law. The Bird app requires a picture at the end of each trip to show the scooter has been properly parked.
“Bird hunters,” or contracted workers with the company, go around cities at night, collecting the scooters to charge at their workplaces or homes. The Bird hunters can make up to $100 each night.
Some transportation experts have applauded the new ride-sharing option as being good for the environment and helping people make short trips for little money. Some customers like it simply for the fun of riding a scooter.
Founded by former Lyft and Uber executive Travis VanderZanden, Bird is one of many tech startups embarking on the scooter rental business, among them LimeBike and Spin that also run dockless bicycle programs.