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A company dropped off electric scooters in Fresno. City pondering license and next step

Would you ditch your car for an electric scooter to get around town?

That’s what the Bird company is hoping Fresnans do after it unceremoniously dotted several parts of the city with black electric scooter stations called “nests,” leaving residents, and the city, dazed.

Several people noticed the scooters in areas around Fresno State early Thursday morning.

According to the company, a recently-launched “Bird University Pop-Up Tour” is bringing the scooters to different cities with hopes of alleviating parking and traffic congestion at colleges and universities.

With fall semester classes soon starting up at Fresno State, the company says it will drop off the bikes at nests in different areas around the university in the morning and pick them up at sunset. At least three scooters will appear at each nest.

Fresno State students and staff appeared to be aware of the so-called nests and the scooters after a few social media posts began circulating. Fresno State President Joseph Castro retweeted a post showing different Bird nests that popped up around the university. But spokeswoman Lisa Boyles said the university has not partnered with the company to provide the scooter service.

Despite efforts to provide efficient transportation options, it hasn’t been a smooth ride for the Bird company or their scooters. A litany of complaints from people in urban cities and city governments about the scooters have surfaced since the company was founded in 2017.

There’s an Instagram page dedicated to showcasing the destruction and disposal of scooters.

Bird was among three scooter companies who were slapped with a cease-and-disist order in San Francisco earlier this year, leading officials to call the scooters a “public nuisance” and order they stop being used. The companies were given a window to address how they would regulate the use of the scooters in the city.

Police in Milwaukee, Wis. ticketed a rider for striking and injuring a pedestrian with a scooter in July.

In St. Louis, Mo., Bird pulled the scooters off the street before it officially launched the ride program. It had not gotten a permit from the city to operate, countering a statement the company makes that they work closely with cities where they operate the scooters.

“Bird wants to work with cities on our shared goal of reducing traffic and carbon emissions,” a Bird spokesperson told The Bee. “That is why we continually engage with the cities and communities in which we operate.”

But Fresno officials are pondering what to do next after the arrival of the scooters.

Fresno spokesman Mark Standriff said the city only became aware the Bird company was interested in operating their scooter business in Fresno when it filed an online application Tuesday.

“Today on social media was the first that we were aware that the scooters had shown up in Fresno,” Standriff said Thursday.

Standriff said the Business Tax Office was still reviewing the application Thursday and has not yet issued Bird a license to operate.

Aside from not having a city license, Standriff added officials are concerned about littering, right-of-way issues and liability when riders use the scooters.

Still, Standriff said it’s premature to say what the city will do to address the scooters as they start to get used by residents. He expects conversations with top city officials will lead to some form of regulation.

To use the scooter service, riders can download the Bird app on their smartphones, where they will be able to find nearby Bird nests. One dollar is required to unlock a scooter and users will pay .15 cents per minute during their ride.

The company says the scooters can go 15 mph and will last about 15 miles if fully charged.

In a statement online, the company said, “Birds give people looking to take a short journey across town or down that ‘last-mile’ from the subway or bus to their destination a way to do so that does not pollute the air or add to traffic.”

Bird cautions riders against using the scooters on sidewalks. The company wants the scooters to be ridden in bike lanes or on the street.

Riders are encouraged to wear helmets. When riders are done using the scooter, Bird asks that they be placed near bike racks and away from public pathways.

Scooter riders must have a valid driver’s license and must be 18 years or older to user the scooter. The Bird app provides a tutorial on how to safely use the scooter, according to the company.

Bird says there is incentive for the cities where they operate the scooter business. The company offers to remit $1 per scooter, per day, to cities so they can develop transportation infrastructure that promotes the use of less cars.

A Bird representative said they will aim to stay on top of theft or vandalism of its scooters, and encourage residents to report any such incidents to Bird. The company says it plans to pick up the scooters each night to store them and make any repairs.

“Bird investigates all reports of vandalism and takes appropriate measures, including working with law enforcement and removing people from our platform,” according to the company spokesperson.

Bird, based in Venice, Calif., operates in 29 U.S. cities and Paris, France, according to its site.

Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado: 559-441-6304, @cres_guez
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