SOUTH BEND — South Bend has reached a deal with shared mobility provider Bird to bring its electric scooters and bikes to the city.
The agreement, to be considered Tuesday by the city’s Board of Public Works, calls for the company to launch 50 to 75 scooters, a relatively small amount to start, by the end of the month, said Deputy Public Works Director Jitin Kain, who had worked since before the COVID-19 pandemic to find a bike and scooter vendor to replace Lime.
“It feels great,” Kain said. “We’ve been working to finalize this deal for a while now so I’m excited to be announcing this and I look forward to their launch.”
Bird will pay the city a $10,000 annual licensing fee, to cover the city’s costs for signage or possibly enforcement. The company will also begin with a “handful” of e-assist bikes, which have pedal-assisted electric motors.
In 2019, shortly after San Mateo, Calif.-based Lime withdrew its bikes and scooters from the city because the company was dropping bikes to focus only on scooters, Kain has said the city, wanting to continue offering both e-bikes and scooters, sent “requests for information” to three companies: the Uber-owned Jump, San Francisco-based Spin, and Charleston, S.C.-based Gotcha.
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Instead, the city ultimately chose Bird. Kain said he was persuaded that the company will work to alleviate the city’s “pain points” from its experience with Lime: “rebalancing” the devices so they aren’t left stranded and out of battery, “provide devices that work,” and have “good operators on the ground.”
The city administration initially wanted to mandate helmet use with the scooters but ultimately determined it cannot do so under Indiana law. The city’s common council in October 2019 passed an ordinance requiring shared mobility vendors, in addition to paying the annual licensing fee, to:
- Remove inoperable bikes and scooters from the public right-of-way between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., within two hours of being notified that the device isn’t working, and within six hours notice between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
- ·Inform users that the scooters can be used on sidewalks, but only those that contain a designated bike lane. Otherwise they may be used only in bike lanes in the street.
- Recommend that users wear helmets.
Bird launched electric scooters in Elkhart in May. In downtown Elkhart Friday, John Vanlew, an employee of a Bird franchisee who owns the devices but must license the system’s software from the company, said the city’s 265 scooters get used daily.
“Some people drive them to work, some people take them to the store, some just like to ride them around,” Vanlew said around lunch time. He said when his app, different from the one riders use, shows him where the scooters have been left around the city. He drives around in a pickup truck, picks them up, recharges them and returns them daily to Civic Plaza.
Vanlew said he has pulled about six of the scooters from the river in Elkhart, a problem that South Bend residents complained about with Lime.
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Similar to Lime’s rates, Bird will charge mobile app users $1 to unlock the devices, then 39 cents per minute.
Kain said Bird is paying the city $2,500, prorated for October through December, and will pull the devices off the streets when there’s snow on the ground. He said the scooters certainly will be launched downtown and possibly other yet-to-be-determined “business districts” or areas with high pedestrian traffic.
Kain said the city hopes Bird will do a better job than Lime of responding to complaints from users when devices need repaired or charged.
“I feel like they will be a good partner,” Kain said, “but we will have to see how their launch goes.”