An ex-Uber employee is littering the streets of San Francisco with scooters that people can rent and toss anywhere - here's how they work
Bird app screenshot and Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider
Bird, an electric scooter-sharing company, has covered the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco with motorized vehicles that are like Razor scooters for grown-ups.
People can reserve a local scooter from a smartphone app, ride for a small fee, and leave the scooter anywhere at the end of a journey. The result is a citywide littering of scooters.
Led by a former Uber and Lyft executive, Bird raised over $100 million in funding this year to expand across the US. But the company's rise to success hasn't been without speed bumps. This week, Bird issued a press release claiming city officials in San Francisco were trying to shut it down. San Francisco City Supervisor Aaron Peskin denied the claim to Business Insider.
I pass a dozen electric scooters on the streets of San Francisco on my daily commute, so I recently rented an electric scooter from Bird to try it myself.
Here's what it was like to rent and try the Bird electric scooter:
The Bird has landed in San Francisco — and people have very mixed feelings about it.
"A few weeks ago, I had not noticed any electric scooters in SF. Now you can't exit a building without tripping over one," M.G. Siegler, a general partner at Google Ventures, tweeted.
It's true. Three startups — Bird, Lime, and Spin — rolled out hundreds of motorized scooter rentals in downtown San Francisco in the span of a few weeks. They're everywhere.
Some people have commended the scooter startups for giving people a cheap, easy way to get around while reducing their reliance on cars and easing congestion on public transit.
I wasn't sure where I stood on the issue, so I decided to give Bird a whirl.
I left my office building in downtown San Francisco and found three scooters (all "Birds") located just outside the entrance.
Honestly, this thing just looks fun to ride. It's a stand-up vehicle like the Razor scooter that I cruised around on as a kid. But the Bird scooter is tricked out with a motor and a battery.
It reaches speeds up to 15 mph. By comparison, Uber's JUMP bikes top out at 19 mph.
After downloading the app and creating a login, a map appeared showing me nearby Birds. The closer I zoomed in, the more detail I could make out — like each scooter's battery charge.
When you find a Bird near you, you tap the button to unlock it. The app prompts you to snap a photo of the scooter's QR code and (on your first rental) scan your driver's license.
Renting a Bird costs $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute of use. I was ready to ride!
To start the scooter, you kick off three times, then push the throttle button with your thumb.
You squeeze with the right hand to accelerate, and brake with the left.
The scooter responded to the lightest touch. There were a few lurches in the beginning as I learned how to handle the acceleration, and I was glad to be in an alley away from traffic.
Almost immediately, I understood the appeal of Bird. It was fast, fun, and easy to maneuver, though I didn't feel comfortable turning corners. Instead, I applied the brake and peddled.
In an active construction area with uneven pavement and loose gravel, the Bird handled the road like it was skating on ice. The extra-wide tires provided a smooth, comfortable ride.
The footboard was plenty wide for my feet, but I imagine it would be a tighter fit for men.
The footboard had some reminders: State law requires scooter riders to wear a helmet. You must be over the age of 18, have a valid driver's license, and ride one person at a time.
Seeing as I didn't have a helmet, I stayed in my comfort zone: The alley. Bird has been giving away free helmets to active riders since February, and I placed an order after my ride.
To end the ride, I opened the app and tapped the button to lock the scooter. The app showed me a ride time of 13 minutes and a cost of $2.95 — a fraction of what my typical Uber ride costs.
Do I still find the scooters littering out streets annoying? Yes. I would like to see the city create regulations that dictate where the scooters can be left and how many are allowed.
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