The electric, dockless Bird scooters are being used around Baltimore. (Jay Reed & Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun video)
With the remnants of the shuttered Baltimore Bike Share still littering the streets, some are wondering whether its replacement will be as susceptible to the vandalism that dogged the old system.
Bird — the dockless scooter-rental firm that has been operating in Baltimore since late June — and the city transportation department did not provide a number of stolen or damaged scooters, and city police say they do not keep count of scooter thefts or damage.
But photos and video of broken and damaged scooters have circulated online, causing concern that the company could face the same problems that overwhelmed its predecessor. One rider said he encountered five damaged scooters in one morning.
The program will come at no cost to taxpayers and will allow each firm to place 1,000 scooters or bicycles in Baltimore so the city transportation department can study whether and how it should be regulated.
The agreements, which a city spokesman declined to release prior to board approval, require that a quarter of the bikes and scooters be placed in low-income neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of households earn less than $25,000.
Scott Thurston wanted to rent a Bird scooter in Mount Vernon one Saturday morning last month. He found five: Three had flat tires, another had loose wiring, and a fifth wouldn’t unlock, he said.
When Thurston reported the problems via the app, he said, he got no response. Moreover, he couldn’t figure out a way to mark the scooters as out-of-order on the app so other people wouldn’t try to ride them, he said. He has seen other riders cruising past on flats.
“I am worried because of the sheer number of Bird scooters I’ve personally come across that shouldn’t be on the street,” Thurston said.
Bird works with local police to address vandalism of its fleet, including removing users from the service when necessary, company spokeswoman Mackenzie Long said in a statement.
“When Bird vehicles are vandalized or knocked over on the sidewalk, it's like breaking windows in our own neighborhood,” Long said. “We hope that when people see available Birds, they are mindful of our friends and neighbors who rely on our vehicles to get to work on time or make it to their next appointment.
“We encourage people ... to report incidents of vandalism to Birds, and irresponsible behavior on Birds, to local authorities and to the company.”
As cities from Santa Monica to Los Angeles to Beverly Hills struggle to control the rapid proliferation of electric pay-per-mile scooters, Westside vandals are waging a guerrilla war against the devices and destroying them in increasingly imaginative ways.
By Laura Newberry
Aug 10, 2018 | 7:00 AM
Bird scooters are picked up nightly by “chargers,” local residents who can plug them in at their homes or garages for $5 to $20, according to the company. The scooters cost no more than 15 cents a vehicle to charge, Bird says.
The company has a separate app for chargers, which displays scooters that are broken or have low batteries.
To some degree, bike and scooter vandalism is outside companies’ and governments’ control, said Paul DeMaio, principal at MetroBike LLC, a bike-share consulting firm that designed the Arlington, Va. portion of the Capital Bikeshare program.
“Just like any other thing, they’re going to be treated well, and also mistreated, by the public, just because it’s there,” DeMaio said.
Vandalism can be curbed by the operators responding quickly to issues and encouraging users to respect each other, the vehicles and others on the streets, he said.