City, frustrated by lack of communication with Bird, promises to impound electric scooters by the end of next week. Negotiations continue with West Lafayette and Purdue
LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Lafayette is about to give Bird electric scooters the boot after less than a month in town.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Bird Rides, Inc., the Santa Monica, California, company that dropped more than 100 of its electric scooters in Greater Lafayette unannounced in early September, the city warned it would start impounding the popular two-wheelers on Oct. 12.
The reason isn’t to get rid of the dockless scooters permanently.
“We’re actually excited about the opportunity to have them in Lafayette,” said Patty Payne, the city’s marketing director. “We understand that this is something some people really want.”
Instead, the city is asking Bird for time – possibly several months – to come up with regulations and a pilot program “to address all types of personal conveyance vehicles and sharing operations.”
“It’s been 3½ weeks, and they haven’t reached out once,” said Margy Deverall, the bike/pedestrian/mobility coordinator in Lafayette’s redevelopment office. “We feel we need time to work some things out.”
Messages left for representatives from Bird were not immediately returned Thursday. Deverall said the city also had not received a response.
Bird scooters are touted as a “last mile” mode of transportation. The company allows customers to use a smartphone app to find a scooter and pay a $1 initial fee, plus 20 cents per minute, to ride. The system allows customers to leave the scooters wherever their rides end.
The letter called out Bird for “users riding scooters illegally on our sidewalks downtown” and scooters parked on our sidewalks in ways that violated Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.
“We have also taken numerous complaint calls from residents, business managers and business owners puzzled by our lack of knowledge and the careless approach of the entire operation,” Deverall’s letter read.
Deverall said the city is following the lead of other cities, including Indianapolis, that asked scooter companies to back off until they could find ways to manage the system. She said Lafayette was working with West Lafayette and Purdue University, where the scooters are getting heavy use, to write unified rules for Bird and other ride-sharing scooter companies considering the market.
Erik Carlson, West Lafayette development director, said West Lafayette had a meeting this week with an Indianapolis law firm representing Bird.
Carlson said West Lafayette isn’t going the cease-and-desist route – even though West Lafayette police spent the first weekend rounding up scooters left in sidewalks and other random places. Carlson said West Lafayette hopes to keep the scooters on the street – “We’re trying not to be the bad guy, here,” he said – while getting Bird to start living up to some regulations that have been in the works since before the scooters arrived.
Carlson said the city wants some assurances about ways to crack down on dangerous riding; “geo-fencing” to keep scooters clear of places they’re likely to cause problems (“I’m thinking breakfast club here,” he said); and establishing direct lines of communication with Bird officials, which have been difficult to arrange in the past month.
He said that if those talks are fruitless, West Lafayette could ask Bird to halt operations temporarily, as well.
“None of us are against this form of transportation,” Carlson said. “And you shouldn’t be in a position to get on a Bird at Purdue and ride to downtown Lafayette being covered by three sets of regulations. We just need time to coordinate all of those and put them in place.”
In Indianapolis, city officials asked Bird and Lime, a rival company, to pull scooters from city streets this summer, allowing them to return after the city created an application and licensing system. The companies returned on Sept. 4, under a system that calls for a $15,000 fee to operate as well as a daily, $1 fee per scooter.
Deverall said Lafayette is looking into how that agreement is working for Indianapolis. She said the city is also looking at what other communities are doing.
At Purdue, Aaron Madrid, the university’s alternative transportation coordinator, started impounding scooters parked illegally on campus – basically, any not in a bike rack – the week the scooters arrived. He said the university, which recently signed an exclusive contract with a bicycle ride-sharing company, wasn’t given notice about the scooters and wasn’t in a position to police them.
“They’re still super-fun,” Madrid said. “But they’re still annoying on my end.”
Madrid said he has about 40 scooters locked in storage on campus. He said no one from Bird’s corporate offices has come to ask for them. He said quite a few of Bird’s independent contractors, who are paid to find and charge the scooters, have come, lured by dozens of icons that pop up on the smartphone app. Madrid said all of those people have gone away emptyhanded, unwilling to pay the $15 impound fee for a scooter that might return only a few more dollars on top of that for charging services.
Alex Mason of West Lafayette said he’s used the Bird scooters several times, even using the app to get a free helmet from the company. Low vision keeps him from driving a car. A Bird ride from his home in New Chauncey neighborhood in West Lafayette to downtown Lafayette is less expensive than hailing car rides via Uber or Lyft. He said the comparison is $3.50 for Bird versus $8 for an Uber or Lyft.
“I would most definitely miss them,” Mason said. “I just hope things work out and they can stick around in some way, shape or form.”
Reach Dave Bangert at 765-420-5258 or at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @davebangert.
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