If you’ve been to downtown Raleigh this week, chances are you’ve seen them. Maybe you’ve even taken one for a spin.
Electric scooters have made their way to downtown and other parts of Raleigh. Here’s what you need to know about the scooters and why you should the read the fine print before hopping on.
What are they?
Bird — a California-based company that’s less than a year old — arrived in Raleigh this week with more than 150 electric scooters. The scooters can reach a speed of 15 miles per hour and are dockless, meaning they can be picked up and left in any public spaces. It’s a concept similar to the bright green Lime bikes you see on N.C. State University’s campus. People use an app to find the scooters, then pay and unlock them for short rides through downtown Raleigh, Oberlin and Cameron Village.
The only other North Carolina city to have the scooters is Charlotte, according to the company’s website.
How do they work?
First things first, download the Bird app (called “Bird — Enjoy The Ride”) from the app store. Then use the map function to find a nearby scooter. The app also shows the battery percentage for each of the scooters in the map area. You can also report a bird lost or make it “chirp” to set off a little beep to help find it.
Once you find a scooter you want to ride, you click “ride” and scan the barcode at the top of the scooter. If it’s your first time riding, you’ll have to take a photo of your license, front and back, and put in your credit or debit card information. A promo code that gives $5 off your first ride is “BirdRaleigh,” and it worked as of this Friday, July 13. It costs $1 to start the ride, then 15 cents per minute.
You’ll also have to sign a waiver that says you’re at least 18 years old, wearing a helmet, not riding downhill, obeying all traffic laws and riding at your own risk. The entire terms of service is worth the read at least the first time to get all of the rules and regulations.
To get the scooter going, you’ve got to kick-start it three times and then push the throttle button down. The brake is on the left-hand side. You ride to your destination on the street or in bike lanes. You are not supposed to ride on the sidewalks. You park the scooter by putting down the kickstand. They’re encouraged to be parked close to the curb and near a bike or scooter rack. The app will ask you to take a photo of your parking job to encourage good behavior.
Bird says it will expand beyond the downtown, Cameron Village and Oberlin areas if they’re successful.
The rules say you’re not supposed to ride a scooter intoxicated, with more than one person, taking a phone call, texting or with a backpack or suitcase if that will distract you. There’s also a weight limit of 200 pounds.
So they get left everywhere?
Sorta. The rules that riders agree to in the beginning state that the vehicle can’t be parked on private property, in a locked area or in another non-public space. You’re asked to keep the scooters out of walkways, driveways, access ramps and fire hydrants.
But does that stop one from ending up on the sidewalk in front of your house or near your front yard? Not really. Ultimately, it’s up to the riders to decide where to put them.
If you’re riding the scooter, don’t forget to lock the vehicle at the end of your trip. If you don’t lock it you will still be charged, and the max charge for a single trip is $100 per 24 hours. And if a scooter is reported missing or stolen, the last person to ride it could be charged unless you can prove it was parked.
The rules also state the vehicle can only be operated in metropolitan areas such as downtown. A few have been spotted on N.C. State’s campus. University spokesman Mick Kulikowski said any scooters left on campus will be picked up and held for Bird to pick up to “keep the campus clean and make sure they’re not an impediment.”
After 7 p.m., people designated as chargers come and pick them up. So if you rode them out to a late dinner, they might not be there when you finish up.
What happens to them at night?
Enter the chargers.
The scooters are electric, which means they have to be charged just like a cellphone or computer. Just like popular ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft, the people who charge the scooters are regular people who get paid for picking up the scooters.
Brian Moriarty, who just moved to the area from New York, signed up to be a local charger for the company. After attending a brief in-person orientation, he received three charging stations. He and other chargers can start picking up the scooters after 7 p.m., and they have to be put back out in populated areas before 7 a.m., at 100 percent battery charge.
If all goes well, he’ll be able to add more chargers to his collection and earn more money. Though people get just a few dollars per scooter charged, they can get up to 20 chargers worth $6 per scooter. That’s $120 per night or $840 per week. On the West Coast, the “Bird hunters” have become a full-time job, for some.
What happens if I get hurt on one?
Riders are responsible for any injuries or medical costs that occur while riding the scooters, according to the waiver riders agree to at the beginning. The rider is also responsible for seeing if weather conditions are bad enough to prevent riding. And while the terms of service don’t specifically mention what happens if the scooter is hit by another vehicle or a scooter hits a vehicle, Bird says all damages to the scooter, person and other property is the responsibility of the rider and not the company.
Though the rules say you’re required to wear a helmet, we haven’t seen many people following this rule. North Carolina law states only that people under the age of 16 are required to wear a helmet. The company does offer riders a “free” helmet, but you have to cover the cost of shipping. And you have to have taken your first ride to qualify. Details are under the “safety” tab on the Bird app.
Why are they debated?
Bird and other electric scooter companies have a habit of appearing in cities without warning and for not always following the permitting or approval process. Earlier this summer, San Francisco banned Bird and two other electric scooter companies because they were operating without the proper permitting.
The city of Santa Monica, Calif., sued the company for operating without the proper licensing. Bird agreed to pay $300,000 in fines and other fees.
There’s also a concern about whether the scooters are dangerous or prone to accidents. During the first week after they were launched in Nashville, Tenn., two women were critically injured while riding the scooters.
A woman in Dallas rode the scooters for the first time this week before crashing on trolley tracks. Her $1.35 trip resulted in two black eyes, stitches and possibly thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Is Raleigh going to regulate them?
The short answer? It’s up in the air for now.
Raleigh’s Transportation Planning Manager Eric Lamb said the city is still investigating whether all rules and procedures have been followed by Bird. There was no coordination with the city on the launch and no permitting or approvals through the city, he said.
But this isn’t the first time dockless scooters and bicycles have come across the city’s radar. Raleigh’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission — a group made up of residents who make recommendations to the City Council — have discussed dockless bicycles and scooters as recently as June. The group’s next meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday at the Raleigh Municipal Building downtown. It’s no surprise that dockless bikes will be on the list of items to discuss.
Other cities, including Durham, require business owners to obtain a permit before operating a dockless bicycle program within city limits. Bird and other electric scooters have already been in touch with the Bull City to add electric scooters to the three bike-share programs already in operation.
The citizen advisory group in Raleigh didn’t want to pursue that method because it would be cumbersome for staff and businesses, said BPAC chairman Paul Nevill. Instead they want to look at the rules around encroachment, but that hasn’t been given the go ahead from Raleigh City Council.
When Raleigh leaders discussed the city-sponsored, dock-based bicycle program, which launches later this year, several council members expressed concern with having a dockless system in or around downtown.