Bird hunting – testing Bird electric scooters in Milwaukee, WI
This past weekend, I took a quick trip up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a bit of a last-minute decision, I had very little planned for my trip other than checking out Milwaukee’s beer scene. Upon arriving to the city, I noticed rows of electric Bird scooters, and while I still didn’t know the logistics of what’d I’d be doing, I immediately knew how I’d be getting around.
Bird launched last year in Santa Monica, CA and has since expanded to multiple cities across twelve states in the U.S. Customers can unlock Bird scooters by downloading the mobile app, and scanning the QR code on the scooter they wish to ride. It is $1 to unlock the scooter and then costs fifteen cents per minute during the trip. The electric scooters can reach 15 mph and because they are dockless – they can be parked anywhere.
There are of course a few ground rules. One of which is wearing a helmet, and while I saw many people riding around on Bird scooters, I didn’t see one helmet. Other rules included following traffic laws, riding in the bike lane, staying off the sidewalks, having one rider per scooter, and parking scooters in legal spots.
I don’t randomly pack a helmet when I travel, but I needed to see what all of the hype was about, so I downloaded the Bird app. After entering my credit card info and scanning my driver’s license, I was ready to go. Through the app, you can locate available Bird scooters, view the amount of charge each scooter has left, and navigate to the scooter on the map. There were two of us, and we quickly realized finding two available Birds next to one another would be a challenge, so I grabbed the nearest Bird, and we went Bird hunting. While I unfortunately did not coin this term, this is apparently a commonly used phrase in the Milwaukee Bird community as there are many more riders than there are scooters and available scooters get swooped up fast. We rode/ran to three scooters before finally being able to unlock before someone else beat us there – third time’s a charm.
Despite the craziness of locating and securing Birds to ride, I can honestly say it was worth the trouble. Granted, I wasn’t the one having to run around the city to find the second scooter. Fifteen miles per hour feels pretty quick on such a small scooter and it made getting around the city a breeze. We rode across the city to Lakefront Brewery and each paid right around five dollars for the entirety of the trip. We parked the Birds at the bike rack directly in front of the brewery, and were confident they’d be gone moments after “locking” them within the app.
While I hope it’s not the case, that might be the last time I’m able to ride a Bird scooter while visiting Milwaukee. The city is currently working to ban the scooters due to concerns from city officials. Bird has only been live in Milwaukee since June 27 – the first day of Summerfest. The city sent a cease and desist letter to Bird, but the company has continued to operate. This week, the city will vote on a new ordinance that would give the city permission to seize Bird scooters. The ordinance comes as a result of concern for public safety caused by the electric scooters relating to lack of helmet use, liability issues and Bird’s user agreement. Milwaukee is not the only city to consider banning electric scooters – San Francisco has already banned all electric scooters and is now determining five companies to grant permits to. Bird does offer free helmets to their customers through their mobile app. All customer need to do is request a helmet within the safety section of the app, and cover shipping costs. This is a great way for Bird to promote safety of their service, but after seeing how difficult it can be to locate available scooters, I have to imagine many riders would end up simply walking around town carrying a helmet.
Similar to Uber and Lyft in the rideshare space, companies like Bird and Lime have seemed to just “show up” in new markets, forcing cities to accommodate or take action. While there is true potential for electric scooters and bikes to reduce personal vehicles on the road and provide residents with an active and inexpensive mode of transport, there are safety concerns that need to be addressed.
Do you think cities and electric scooter companies will be able to come together to make this shared service work?