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.
And Bird has faced theft and vandalism in other cities where it operates — like in Los Angeles, where creatively destroying the scooters has become something of a sport
Baltimore shut down its nearly two-year-old bike share system last week and is expected to approve a pair of agreements at Wednesday’s Board of Estimates meeting, authorizing Bird and Lime, a competitor that provides bikes and scooters, to launch a six-month pilot program instead.
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.”
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.
In Los Angeles, where the scooters have become nearly ubiquitous, some locals deride them as the latest encroachment of Silicon Valley into their lives — and have taken matters into their own hands.
Scooters there have been crammed into toilets, tossed off balconies, set on fire, and even adorned with dangling bags of dog poop, the L.A. Times reported.
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.
Governments can do their part by building protected bike lanes, so that bicycle and scooter riders have room to ride without run-ins with pedestrians or cars, DeMaio said.
“If done right, this could be a virtuous cycle to get more people riding not only [rental bicycles and scooters] but also their own,” he said.