Photo Credit: Savannah Cole
Last week, Bird Scooters began hatching around Athens and soaring through the University of Georgia as part of the company’s nationwide “University Pop-Up Tour.” But now, several Athens-Clarke County and University of Georgia officials are saying they’re becoming a big problem—so much so that university officials are confiscating the new scooters on campus.
According to university spokesman Greg Trevor and ACC public information officer Jeff Montgomery, Bird Scooters did not coordinate with the university or the county. Nor does it have a business license, according to the ACC finance department and the Georgia Secretary of State's office.
Clarification: While Bird does not have a business license, it is not required to have one to operate, SoS representative Quwanna Sorrells told Flagpole.
Common concerns about the new scooters are riders ignoring helmet requirements, riding scooters on sidewalks, disobeying local and state traffic laws and leaving scooters abandoned on sidewalks, roads and other areas where could cause harm to bystanders.
Bird scooters are dockless electric scooters that can go up to 15 miles per hour, and give locals an alternative commuting option. The vehicle operates on the same lithium ion batteries that cell phones and tablets use, which requires recharging daily. “The company or the company’s contractors scoop them up at the end of the day and recharges them for in the morning,” said Tyler Dewey, executive director of BikeAthens.
The scooters cost $1 to unlock with a QR code given on an app, and 20 cents per minute to ride, with a maximum charge of $9 an hour.
Through the Bird app, riders are able to go step-to-step on how to rent, operate and park the Birds. First, users must find where the closest Bird is by using the tracking feature on the app. Then, the app advises them to bring and wear a helmet to abide by state law and not to ride on sidewalks. “In the Bird app itself, it recommends that people ride them in the roadway, which suggests a larger problem that Athens needs a better network of bike facilities,” Dewey said.
UGA began impounding scooters on Wednesday, citing safety concerns “for those riding the scooters and for bystanders who might be hit by them or whose path might be impeded by an abandoned scooter,” university spokesman Greg Trevor said.
In addition, the scooters violate campus policy, he said. “Consistent with Transportation and Parking Services rules and regulations, any vehicle, including motorcycles and scooters, parked in an illegal or unsafe manner at any time is prohibited and is subject to violations and removal,” Trevor said. “Scooters left on sidewalks, grass, stairwells, decks or similar situations are also subject to violations and removal.”
Amanda Crites, a junior accounting major from Lawrenceville, said she was about to hop on one of the scooters when a UGA Transportation and Parking Services employee walked up, took a picture of the Bird scooter in a campus bike rack and placed it in a university vehicle. Crites decided to take a picture of what she was witnessing. Soon after, the image went viral in the Overheard at UGA Facebook group.
The scooters will not be released until Bird pays its fines, Trevor said. At press time, the scooters were being stored on East Campus, according to the tracking feature on the Bird app.
In an email sent to local users on Wednesday, Bird asked students to email UGA officials and petition to keep “the convenient and affordable means of sustainable transportation” on campus.
ACC Police have already received “several complaints,” said public information officer Epifanio Rodriguez, but no official incident reports have been filed.
Rodriguez said ACCPD is advising people on local and state law regarding scooters. County ordinances prohibits parking on sidewalks and driveways, in front of alleys and driveways or in the middle of the street. State law bans people from driving any vehicle on the sidewalk or sidewalk area.
“If Bird were parking these scooters on private property or parking spots, it wouldn’t be as much of a problem,” Montgomery said.
ACC officials reached out to Bird on Tuesday about violations to county ordinances and state law, Montgomery said.
Some alternative transportation advocates, though, think the safety concerns about e-scooters are overblow. "Cities must focus safety efforts on drivers, who kill and injure urban residents at numbers that are hundreds if not thousands of times higher than the supposed danger of e-scooter users," wrote Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog last week.
Athens is the second city in Georgia where Bird has begun operating, following Atlanta in May. Bird scooters are operating in over 20 U.S. cities such as Detroit, Nashville and the company’s hometown of Santa Monica, CA. Some city governments, like Denver and San Francisco, have been forced to ban Birds Scooters because of misbehaving riders, while other major cities, like Atlanta, have decided to implement stricter regulations for the dockless e-scooters.
The ACC Commission’s Legislative Review Committee is scheduled to discuss potential e-scooter regulations at a meeting tonight. Check back to flagpole.com tomorrow for more.