Bradenton asks Bird for an improved scooter rental system

ByShannon J. Cortes

Nov 18, 2022

Nearly two months after being taken off the streets before Hurricane Ian, rental scooters from Bird in downtown Bradenton remain unavailable.

Following reports of widespread problems, such as high speeds and scooters operating outside permitted areas, city officials blocked Bird from restoring rental service until the issues were resolved. At a town hall meeting on Wednesday, Bradenton City Council said the company still has a long way to go.

“I want to get to a point where they understand that if it doesn’t work, they understand that it’s a blessed release,” Mayor Gene Brown said.

At a recent protest by Bird representatives, Brown said the company had failed to show it had fixed the issues city officials asked them to fix.

“They were 0 for 5 on things that they thought should work but didn’t,” Brown explained.

Bird’s business model allows people to use their smartphone to grab a parked scooter and pay a fee to ride around town before putting it back in a parking spot. The program launched in Bradenton this summer with approximately 200 scooters in the area.

A local Bird representative was not present for Wednesday’s meeting, and the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday morning.

City officials slam Bird scooter launch

Complaints quickly piled up after Bird launched the scooter rental program. Council members said they heard residents worry about the speed of motorized scooters and saw them in places where the city had specifically said they shouldn’t be allowed.

“I was very upset when it came to geo-blocking not working, but also being told they weren’t respecting our wishes,” Councilor Marianne Barnebey said. “No. No. I will never vote for them again if this isn’t sorted out.

“I don’t believe in rewarding disrespectful behavior,” she added.

Councilman Bill Sanders also criticized the city administration for not shutting down the scooter rental program as soon as they became aware of the issues.

“There will be certain things that we will need to give them the opportunity to work,” Brown suggested.

“It’s not their first rodeo,” Sanders retorted.

Bird, which is based in Santa Monica, Calif., operates in hundreds of cities around the world. The company has become a leader in the scooter rental industry, but in October the company announced that it would leave three European countries as well as “several dozen” small and medium-sized towns in the United States.

“We are saddened that we cannot continue to support customers who rely on Bird e-scooters and e-bikes as their first choice of transportation,” Bird wrote in a blog post on the company’s website.

Will Bird fix its scooter rental program?

Bradenton leaders have provided a set of demands that Bird must comply with before rentals in the city can resume. These changes include capping the citywide top speed at 10 mph, banning scooters from entering certain parts of the city, and installing marked corrals for scooters to park.

City Attorney Scott Rudacille also plans to send a letter warning Bird that the city may terminate the company’s operating agreement if the issues are not resolved. Bradenton chose the company as its sole scooter rental operator earlier this year, but the city may decide to move forward with another provider in the future.

“I was less than impressed with their deployment,” said City Administrator Rob Perry, who urged Bird to quickly deal with the parking corrals. “I want to know who’s going to do them, how they’re going to do them and when they’re going to do them.”

The parking corrals could take the form of painted strips on city sidewalks or physical storage areas, but it’s unclear how soon Bird will be able to install them.

Other city officials were more sympathetic. Councilwoman Jayne Kocher said she was concerned about the complaints she received, but also said she supported giving Bird more time to right his wrongs.

“I’m not ready to kill the program. I would like to go all the way,” Kocher said.

BirdscooterBradenton.jpg
Bradenton City Council has threatened to end a business relationship with Bird as the scooter rental company struggles to address resident complaints such as geofencing and top speed. Robyn Murrel

This story was originally published November 18, 2022 5:50 a.m.

Ryan Callihan is the county reporter for the Bradenton Herald, covering local government and politics. On weekends, it also covers the latest news. Ryan graduated from USF St. Petersburg.
Support my work with a digital subscription