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E-scooter Wars Hit Santa Cruz With Bird’s Surprise Launch

Electric scooter startup Bird makes local debut without telling city officials

Three Bird scooters parked outside Hotel Paradox on Thursday, Sept. 13. PHOTO: LAUREN HEPLER

Update, Sept. 13, 4:15 p.m. — A City of Santa Cruz press release on Thursday afternoon says that a cease-and-desist letter has been sent to Bird, giving the electric scooter startup “until midnight September 13, 2018, to remove all of their scooters from all public sidewalks and/or rights-of-way in the City.” The move, the statement continues, follows steps taken in San Diego, Boston, Nashville and Fresno to issue cease-and-desist letters, restrict scooter use or ban the devices.

“Bird’s approach is dismissive of the hundreds of businesses in Santa Cruz who play by the rules, receive proper permits and licenses, and operate legally,” City Manager Martin Bernal says in the statement. Though he adds that Santa Cruz “would have welcomed a preliminary conversation with Bird,” it is not clear how the city will approach the issue moving forward.

Original story: As of Thursday, Santa Cruz residents have a new type of on-demand transportation available with a few clicks of a smartphone—though not many locals knew it was coming.

Black and white, two-wheeled electric scooters sporting the logo of Santa Monica transportation startup Bird were neatly lined up Thursday morning in small clusters around midtown and near downtown Santa Cruz. At least three dozen scooters spread from the Westside to Seabright appeared ready to ride on the Bird mobile app as of late morning on Thursday.

The model of insta-renting electric gadgets to get from Point A to Point B will be familiar to local residents who have used the bright orange, Uber-owned Jump bikes available in town.

But the launch of e-scooters, city officials say, was more of a surprise.

“Bird hasn’t contacted anyone at the city about their program, which is apparently consistent with their business model,” City Spokesperson Eileen Cross told GT in an e-mail.

The Bird app works by allowing users to upload a credit card, use a map to locate nearby scooters, then take a picture of a code on the device to ride for $1, plus $.20 per minute.

Bird app

Taking Flight A screenshot of scooters available in Santa Cruz on the Bird app, as of Thursday, Sept. 13.

Startup database Crunchbase says Bird has raised some $415 million from venture capitalists to bring its on-demand scooters to the masses, often attracting controversy about safety and neighborhood nuisances in the process. Bird declined to answer questions on Thursday morning about how many of the scooters will be on the street in Santa Cruz, or whether the company reached out to any local officials or businesses in advance of the launch.

“Santa Cruz is a forward-thinking city that shares Bird’s vision of getting cars off the road to reduce traffic and carbon emissions,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to GT. “We are thrilled to bring our affordable, environmentally friendly last-mile transportation option here, and we hope to work closely with city leaders so that we can help the entire community more easily get around town.”

Like ridesharing providers Uber and Lyft before them, e-scooter companies are an example of the often-thorny relationship between fast-moving startups and local governments. The friction is especially obvious with transportation in California, where many environmental and social groups are already campaigning for more alternatives to notoriously car-centric development sprawl.

Where trouble tends to arise with e-scooters in particular is the devices’ 20-mile-an-hour-plus speeds, sometimes making it dicey to share bike lanes or sidewalks, and their providers’ reluctance to police users. In addition to a reputation for asking cities for forgiveness rather than permission to launch their scooter-sharing systems, Bird and competitors like Uber-backed Lime have argued that they shouldn’t be responsible for users who ride recklessly or leave devices in the public right of way. Cities like San Jose, meanwhile, have argued that they already don’t have enough cops for regular traffic stops, let alone scooter-related incidents.

In June, Santa Cruz Transportation Planner Claire Fliesler told GT that the city had no plans to pursue a scooter system, since planners were focused on building out bike sharing. Still, she said, local officials have been following the saga of e-scooters in neighboring cities.

San Francisco took the harshest approach to scooters released to the public with little or no warning to the city, banning the devices after concerns about mowing down pedestrians and sloppy parking that obstructed sidewalks. In late August, the city began allowing licensed operators back on the road, though they notably barred Bird, Lime and several other competitors from the newly legal industry.

Digital Editor at Good Times |

Lauren Hepler is the digital editor of Good Times and a reporter covering cities, jobs and tech — plus the occasional sports or agriculture story required of all Ohio natives. She has contributed to the New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC and Slate. Lauren was previously on staff at the Silicon Valley Business Journal and is a graduate of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Jay

    September 16, 2018 at 5:41 am

    No because I’m just going to start parking my cars in your driveway and letting anyone that wants to pay me come get them anytime they want and park them however they want in your driveway and if you don’t like it, tough beans buddy. Just try and stop me because I raised $400MM and will drain your resources battling you in court. Sure I could take the high road and come to a mutually beneficial agreement with you. But why? You might say no, or I might have to follow your rules and that’s not OK because it’s about me and my investors, not you and your family.

  2. Mike

    September 15, 2018 at 9:31 am

    The city did impound the scooters.they are all at the Corp yard further notice

  3. rainer

    September 15, 2018 at 1:57 am

    these are a great way to get around, and a lot of fun. Just to clarify, Bird scooters top out at 15 mp.

  4. Peter

    September 14, 2018 at 11:00 pm

    If someone stole or destroyed Bird scooters, are they destroying or steeling private property? Is it a crime? If I left a bunch of my things all over the city, and gave everyone instructions on how to use my stuff, can I expect the city to guard my stuff? I’m curious what sort of weird precedents will come from legal battles on this topic.

    • SUNAYON

      September 19, 2018 at 9:21 am

      Peter, I appreciate your line. ”If someone stole or destroyed Bird scooters, are they destroying or stealing private property? Is it a crime? ”

      However, I’m not judging the electric scooter are legal or illegal. But I love the Scooter and its cool features. Even, I’m running a website too in topic #Scooter.

  5. Brian Anderson

    September 14, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    My wife and I rented these in Jack London Square, Oakland last month, and went around Lake Merrit. Though we were on paths most of the time, we did have to get into a bit of traffic. These things do not have shocks, and they don’t provide you helmets, though everything you signed releases liability of an accident; but don’t hit a pothole! They can reach up to 18 miles an hour, so they tend to tick off pedestrians if you’re at the higher speeds. Especially on West Cliff, if we started mixing up electric scooters, too many jump bikes, pedestrians, dog walkers with leashes, joggers, and baby carts, we are going to have more accidents and aggression, on what should otherwise be a lovely stroll. I am super all for these Alternative forms of transportationation, but we need designated paths for them instead. There’s enough aggression on the roads between anybody who drives these days, whereas walking on the cliffs should be relaxing. Often, jump bikes are ridden by tourists, that don’t have a lot of regard for pedestrians. I’d like to see them off heavily traffic paths, as they’re too fast here.

  6. Pete

    September 14, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    Always astounds me. Tearing down new stuff, Microsoft (way back) Amazon, Lyft, Uber, now Bird Scooters. Sometime you just have to go for it without the blessing of the enlightened local government…. Or go thru the “proper channels the and spend millions and decades deciding the feasiblility of the Rail Trail….. Duh!!

  7. robyn marx

    September 14, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    First we have those ugly orange bikes littering streets all over town, now we’ll be tripping over these scooters as well? What happened to licensing and oversight by city or PD, though a business license was required for a commercial operation? Guess this is like those fruit sellers on neighborhood corners, licensing and tax laws don’t apply?

  8. Bad Bird

    September 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

    I work in San Jose and have witnessed a pedestrian getting mowed down by a wreckless kid riding one of these dockless scooters. He had no care riding 20 mph on the sidewalk while blowing through a red light / no walk signal. I really think the riders become brainless upon stepping on foot of this thing. Great, bring the clueless smartphone users who text while walking in front of a moving car with no concern for anyone and put them on a 20mph scooter. Great idea there guys.

    Where are the handicap organizations and why are they not fighting back? In no way can handicap people fully utilize the sidewalks anymore setting them up for injury. Same with the elderly. An 80 year old woman is of no match to a kid or adult riding a 20 mph scooter.

    Other sightings, riders on these scooters riding with headphones on both ears, riding against traffic and in the middle of the street, and also with headphones on both ears.

    Blowing 20mph though red lights, stop signs.

    etc, etc, etc.

    Also why is there no enforcement by the authorities and cities with this? If I as an average Joe tried pulling crap like this, I’d for sure be fined and jailed. These are moving and non human powered vehicles, they must follow all motor vehicle laws of the state they are in!

    California is turning more and more into the Wild Wild West in a very bad way.

  9. grownhere

    September 14, 2018 at 9:13 am

    Don’t get me wrong, both are fun to ride and have their place. There is also a way that one must go about operating a business and using city funds of which both companies are violators in some way. The city used public funds to create Jump bike stations. Use of public funds has to be authorized by us, the public, taken by a vote. The city entered a contract with Jump as the only alternative transport in the city and spent city funds without public authorization. I would suggest impounding the scooters as well, but watch Bird come out on top by filing suite against the city for entering into a contract and spending funds without putting it to vote and bid. I think this will be quite interesting, and if the city does impound I wouldn’t mind picking one up at a police auction…

  10. Chelsea Wagner

    September 14, 2018 at 8:43 am

    Just like everyone else they need a business license. So the city should impound the devices and charge them for pickup and storage till they get one.

  11. George

    September 14, 2018 at 8:15 am

    Wish I felt so entitled to go to someone else’s city and just dump my junk all over the place.

    Are you entitled to throw this trash in a dumpster if it’s in public?

  12. Tim

    September 14, 2018 at 7:30 am

    I totally agree! $12/hr is ludicrous, especially when Jump Bikes are a third of the price, are off the sidewalk, are more comfortable, and have a basket so you can actually do some errands on them. Bird might have a worse business model than MoviePass, if that’s possible…

    • robyn marx

      September 14, 2018 at 12:39 pm

      jump bikes are ugly orange eyesores all over the city

  13. Crissa

    September 13, 2018 at 9:39 pm

    More personal transportation options are better, but just throwing a commercial venture onto city streets seems both rude and kinds like littering.

  14. gasstationwithoutpumps

    September 13, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    At $12 an hour, the scooters are far more expensive than Jump Bikes. They also seem (based on experience of nearby cities) to be much more of a sidewalk-clutter problem than the Jump Bikes.

    Given that Bird did not work with the City on placing the scooters, I think that they can be charged with littering for leaving them on the public right of way

  15. Peter

    September 13, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    Is Santa Cruz really a forward thinking city when it comes to transportation when they want to build a 6 story garage with a library in it on the only open space in downtown? As well as consistently push for needing more parking spaces for vehicles? I’m not about these scooters, but I am about bikes. Santa Cruz is decades behind its infrastructure plan, and is living in the past by building parking lots and parking spaces for vehicles that cost way too much money. They keep wanting to invite people to drive their cars here, with no where for them to go because the streets are too crowded. Maybe the city should spend their time thinking about how to get the housing situation figured out for the working class that keeps the city running and less worried about catering to the needs of Silicon Valley scum.

  16. Jay

    September 13, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    I don’t mind the scooters for now. We’ll see how they’re handled by riders. However, the blatant disregard for citizens and the community is unacceptable. I’d like to see the city impound the scooters until an agreement is reached whereby Bird covers and expenses the city may incur and effectively pays a fair tax for use of the local infrastructure.

    • Pete

      September 14, 2018 at 2:03 pm

      Because the city knows best

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