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Bird, Lime to pay Baltimore $30,000 to operate six-month pilot program

The electric, dockless Bird scooters are being used around Baltimore. (Jay Reed & Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun video)

Bird and Lime will each pay Baltimore $15,000, plus a dollar a day for each dockless scooter or bike they deploy, to operate a six-month pilot program in the city, according to the agreements approved by the city Wednesday.

The pilot program, which runs through the end of February, allows each firm to maintain a fleet of no more than 1,000 dockless scooters and bikes.

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Matt Warfield, the bike/city planner overseeing the program at the city Department of Transportation, said the agreements were based on best-practice recommendations from the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

“We put this together based on the experiences other cities have already had,” Warfield said.

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With the remnants of the shuttered Baltimore Bike Share still littering the streets, its replacement already is getting a taste of the theft and vandalism that dogged the old system.

The bikes and scooters come at no cost to the city, unlike the canceled Baltimore Bike Share program they replaced, which cost the city a total of $3.2 million, according to the Department of Transportation.

The agreements indemnify the city from any payment or insurance liability in connection to the pilot program. Each company is required to have insurance of at least $1 million “for claims arising out of bodily injuries or death, and property damages.”

“If at any time during the term of this Agreement, the City is not satisfied with its evaluation of the Dockless Vehicles or other operations of the Dockless Business, it shall have the sole right to terminate this Pilot Agreement,” the agreements say.

The $15,000-per-vendor operating fee was negotiated by the mayor’s office, and the money — as well as the dollar-a-day fee — will be used for “bicycle and pedestrian initiatives,” according to James Bentley, a spokesman for Mayor Catherine Pugh.

Under the agreements, the bicycles and scooters may be parked on streets, under the same rules for motorcycles, and sidewalks, as long as they leave at least 4 feet of space for pedestrians. But they may not be ridden on sidewalks, or without a helmet by riders under age 16. No more than three vehicles of the same type may be parked in the same block, and a quarter of the bicycles and scooters must be deployed and redistributed each day to specific low-income neighborhoods.

No less than 1.5 percent of the vehicles in each fleet must be located in Poppleton/The Terraces/Hollins Market, Oldtown/Middle East, Cherry Hill, Greenmount East, Southwest Baltimore, Southern Park Heights, Madison/East End, Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park, Pimlico/Arlington/Hilltop, Penn North/Reservoir Hill, Clifton-Berea, Brooklyn/Curtis Bay/Hawkins Point, Greater Charles Village/Barclay and Washington Village/Pigtown.

The companies are required to move bikes and scooters within six hours of being notified of issues such as overconcentration or broken vehicles.

Baltimore has permanently shut down its problem-plagued Bike Share program after less than two years and entered instead into a pilot program with two other firms offering dockless scooters and bikes.

Photos and videos of broken Bird scooters already are circulating online, prompting some to worry Bird and Lime could encounter the same problems that overwhelmed their predecessor. Bird has faced theft and vandalism in other cities where it operates.

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.

“We encourage people…,” Long said, “to report incidents of vandalism to Birds, and irresponsible behavior on Birds, to local authorities and to the company.”

To some degree, bike and scooter vandalism is outside the control of companies and governments, 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.

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Bird and Lime agreed to provide weekly reports to the city on the number of rides taken, the number of bikes and scooters in service, and any crashes, vandalism or thefts.

The weekly reports also must include maps of the location of all dockless vehicles at some point between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. and between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. each day; a map of the average location of the fleet over the course of the week; and another displaying anonymous ride origins and destinations.

Those reports are a central part of the transportation officials association’s recommendations, NACTO spokesman Alex Engel said.

“The No. 1 thing is to ensure data is being reported accurately and fully to the city, so that the city can monitor how these dockless vehicles are operating on the streets,” Engel said.

Each company also must provide a 24-hour staffed customer service line for the public and an up-to-date contact “who is reasonably available to DOT and is capable of rebalancing the Fleet within the city” from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays within two hours of notice.

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.

Despite the concerns about theft and vandalism, the companies’ decision to operate in Baltimore is proof they believe it can work, Warfield said.

“People just want to see options for multimodal transit in Baltimore City,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re doing it in a smart way and not wasting resources in the process.”

“Baltimore has embraced Bird as an important option for its communities,” Long said in a statement. “We will continue to work with local leaders and officials so that our affordable transportation option can help improve mobility and reduce traffic congestion throughout Baltimore.”

Lime, which Warfield said would launch its fleet in Baltimore in the coming weeks, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The agreement left Celeste Chavis curious about how the city would enforce its rules on where bikes and scooters could be parked and ridden — and how well the program will serve low-income areas.

Chavis, a professor of transportation and urban infrastructure studies at the National Transportation Center at Morgan State University, noted that some of the areas listed in the agreement range different income levels.

In Charles Village, for instance, she wanted to know, would most of the bikes and scooters be concentrated near the Johns Hopkins University?

“Are they going to put the scooters at the lower end of that neighborhood?” Chavis asked.

The pilot program shows Baltimore is not giving up on bike share after shutting down its failed system, she said.

“They’ll be successful if they can figure out ways to make sure the fleet is maintained and active,” Chavis said. “I hope the equity zones are enforced and we see some positive things come out that.”

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