Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

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By Sarah Storkin
Observer Staff Writer 

Scooter Roto Rooter: Criminal complaint against Bird to be heard February 1

Bird provides the single-person electric scooters that can be found parked on sidewalks throughout the city


January 19, 2018

Two children on a Bird scooter cross California Incline on Ocean Avenue

The City of Santa Monica, ever vigilant to protect others from ripping them off, has filed a criminal complaint against Bird, the company providing phone-app electric scooters for rent.

Bird provides the single-person electric scooters that can be found parked on sidewalks throughout the city. The devices can be unlocked with a phone-based app. To ride costs $1 per unlocking plus 15 cents per minute. When finished, the rider then relocks the device using the phone application.

But Bird committed the venal sin of neglecting to pay off the correct members of Santa Monica city staff and/or elected leaders. Sorry. What I really meant is the company didn't apply for the correct business license. If they had only done so (applied for the right licensing, that is - but probably paying off the right people would have helped), the scooters would have been touted in the city-run newspaper, Seascape, and residents would have been encouraged to ride the climate-change-destroying, oh-so-environmentally-unimpactful devices.

But since Bird did not apply for the proper permit - and pay the city its due - the city doesn't care if the climate is destroyed and will ban the scooters.

Bird does have a business license, but the license they have acquired does not cover the type of business they are running, wherein transactions occur at multiple locations and often on public property, the sidewalk or street. The city requires a separate license for every location where rentals are enacted. This is the kind of licensing that bicycle, car, and Segway rental companies purchase. Food trucks, as well, have separate business licenses for the location of their administrative offices and for their trucks.

Despite the criminal complaint, Bird CEO VanderZanden claims he does not believe the situation is adversarial, according to an article in the Daily Press. On the other hand, he has requested Bird scooter supporters to email the City asking the authorities to consider new rules that will allow his scooters to continue rolling on city streets. Presumably without having to pay for licenses that would cover every square foot of public right-of-way on which the scooters end up getting parked and their rentals "transacted." At least 850 such emails have been sent.

As no similar anti-Bird campaign has been organized, although plenty of residents dislike the scooters, an under-represented number of opposing emails have probably been received. The scooters often block sidewalks and driveways. The riders use sidewalks illegally, driving too fast for safety. However, when the scooters use the street, they are not very visible to the cars sharing the street with them.

Although both VanderZanden and the city's public information officer, Constance Farrell, claim to want they city to bring their laws into the modern age to "work with innovators and tech companies to implement new, environmentally friendly transportation options," as VanderZanden is quoted in the SMDP, it is unclear how safe these scooters can ever be. VanderZanden is offering free helmets, but how are they to be obtained when a potential rider comes across the convenience of a Bird parked outside his apartment building? And what does one do with the helmet at the end of the ride when one is out shopping for groceries? Given the sparse use of helmets by riders using the Breeze city bicycles, it is unlikely Bird scooters will see much safety helmet use.

Already, at least one Bird rider has collided with a car by - you guessed it - running a stop sign. The rider ended up in the hospital with serious injury. Worse will no doubt follow.

Despite their opposition to the Bird scooters - so long as they haven't yet been paid off - the city has posted a set of California Vehicle Code laws regarding electric scooters:

You can only ride if you have a valid driver's license or instruction permit.

Wearing a helmet is required for all ages.

You must ride by yourself, and not with any passengers.

You must ride on the road, never on the sidewalk.

You may not park on the sidewalk in the way of pedestrian traffic.

You must not ride at night unless the motorized scooter is equipped with proper lighting equipment, including a front light source which is visible from the front and sides, and reflectors.

We predict that once the city is paid off, the abuse of public right-of-way by a private company and the safety issues regarding the scooters will be things of the past - at least as far as the City of Santa Monica is concerned.


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