by Sam Catanzaro
“Cheap”, “ample” and “zippy”: these are some of the ways riders of Bird Scooters in Venice described the motorized scooters that have become an everyday sight on the Westside.
Bird Inc, the company that operates these scooters, is based in Santa Monica, but users are allowed to ride outside the city. Venice, which can be reached easily via the beach bike path, is one of the more popular destinations for riders. Scooters cost $1 to unlock through the Bird app and then 15 cents per minute for the duration of the ride. Upon a ride’s completion, the scooters lock automatically and can be left anywhere.
“They offer you a very fast and fun way of getting around. In my opinion Bird scooters are much better than the city bikes because the city bikes are very slow and if you want to park them you have to find a booth,” said one local 15-year-old, who wished to remain anonymous.
While this description highlights the positive side of these scooters, it also highlights some of the negative consequences they have created. Johnny Parco, owner of Boardwalk Skate & Surf, is worried that as these scooters make their way into Venice, they may take potential customers away from his bike and skate rental service.
“I think they are affecting our business,” Parco said. “We have been in business for 25 years, and as we have seen with the Metro Bikes and the Hulu Bikes, all these things are impacting our business and we still got the high rent, insurance, taxes, and employees.”
Also of concern to Parco and local officials are the number of underage individuals riding these scooters. California law requires anyone operating motorized scooters to have a valid driver’s license or instructional permit and to wear a helmet. State law also prohibits riders from abandoning motorized scooters on public property or in a way that impedes pedestrian traffic.
“We provide helmets, they don’t provide helmets. They got kids that are renting them that are 12, 15, I don’t know how old. I mean if they have a credit card they can get it. So that is a big liability,” Parco said.
Recently Bird sent out an email saying they would provide one free helmet per user. Yet most riders still operate the scooters without a helmet, and there remains no enforcement mechanism to make sure riders are of age.
“I get around the age requirements by just checking the box saying that I’m 18 because really nobody even checks if you meet the age requirement,” the 15-year-old interviewed for this article said. “If they did check, they would most likely lose a lot of their customers who ride Birds because a majority of Bird riders are under the age requirement.”
Yo! Venice reached out to Bird Inc for comment, but they did not respond.
In response to these issues, the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office filed a lawsuit against Bird Inc. The charges include operating without a business license, having scooters left in the public right of way, and refusal to comply with City citations. On December 7th, 2017, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Tamara Hall found reasonable ground that the company had committed the offenses listed in the complaint, and issued a summons to Bird Inc, that required them to appear in court to answer the charges on February 1, 2018.
“Criminal prosecution is not the first remedy to be used in regulatory cases, but Bird’s flagrant violations of City laws threaten public safety and require prosecution,” said Santa Monica Deputy City Attorney Eda Suh in a press release.
Frank Mateljan, Deputy Director of Community Engagement and Outreach for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office told Yo! Venice that there is currently no legal action being pursued by the L.A. City, despite the fact that Bird Inc is operating without a business license. Johnny Parco, the owner of Boardwalk Surf & Skate, says that even if the City forces Bird to get a business license, the issue of these scooters being left on the sidewalk will remain.
“Even if they do get a business license they are not allowed to be on City property, just like I am not allowed to be conducting a business on City property,” Parco said.
Regardless of how these legal questions are settled, riders are encouraged to follow local rules and regulations which require wearing a helmet and having a valid driver’s license or permit. Riders can get a free helmet by logging into the Bird app and selecting Safety from the side menu.