Bird Launches in Santa Monica

For many nearby trips, Bird is a faster, less costly mobility option than Uber or Lyft.

On a recent trip to Santa Monica, California, I was pleased to discover a new last-mile shared transportation service called “Bird.” The new company is pilot testing a network of roughly 100 rentable electric scooters, which are distributed around this tourist-rich beach city. This is an all-new “link” in the LA urban mobility “chain.” It’s a great new option for reaching nearby destinations without using a car.

The Bird network features small scooters that remind me of the popular Razor child push-scooters, and are available in a dock-less system. Being smaller than bikes, they are easily parked on a city’s sidewalks, where they are available for the next rider. 

The Bird app is easy to download and helps the user find a nearby Bird scooter, which is unlikely to be more than one block away. The app also allows the user to see the scooters’ levels of available electrical charge.

It costs the user $1 to unlock the scooter, and 15 cents for each minute of use. A short (1.5-mile) ride will unlikely cost more than $2. I found the pricing very reasonable.

Bird claims the scooter’s top speed is 15 mph. On my test ride, the scooter felt faster than that, and was plenty fast. The scooter is very fun to ride, but it does take some rider skill, and I doubt many 70-year olds will be using this service. I do, however, see millions of younger people finding this service very practical and enjoyable. 

Bird encourages riders to use the city’s bike lanes, and to not ride on a sidewalk—which most users seem to do. The top transportation official in Santa Monica is very excited about adding Bird to the growing mix of new mobility services available there. The city has recently launched a shared (dock-less) bike-share system, which Bird compliments.

The company claims the scooters have a 15-mile range. On my test ride, I used about 40% of the charge traveling about 5 miles, so the range may have been overstated. Each morning the entire fleet of Bird scooters can be found to be fully charged, which requires Bird staff to travel to each vehicle at night and replace the battery unit, and possibly to redistribute the scooter to a better location for morning rental. Later in the day, it seems few of the scooters have much charge, and Bird will need to figure out how to better keep their scooters charged through the day.

I believe some of these scooters have already been stolen. When you approach the scooter, you will see a large notice “This Scooter is GPS Tracked” on the scooter’s floorboard.  The small scooter is an easy size for a thief. Watching the Bird app over a few days, I saw a couple of scooters moving to locations over 30 miles away from Santa Monica, which were likely stolen scooters. I’m unsure how Bird is dealing with theft, but their app does have an area focusing on scooter recovery. The scooters are likely made in China, and cost around $200 each.

Dockless bike-share systems have been getting a lot of press coverage around the world in recent months. Poorly regulated applications have seen far too many bikes deposited around the city, often making life harder for pedestrians. The small size of the Bird scooters is a clear benefit in this regard, and don’t impact a sidewalk in a negative way. Bird seems focused on spreading their service to all major U.S. cities.

Travis VanderZanden is the founder and CEO of Bird. He had an early automotive related start-up, then became COO of Lyft. He left Lyft to become a leader at Uber. Lyft was unhappy with how Travis left the company, and legal action followed. Travis’s execution of all Bird system elements has been really well done. He is clearly raising the bar in the world of last-mile mobility services.

As new mobility services become more available in the United States and around the world, the need for appropriate first- and last-mile mobility services grows. Bird is an excellent example of one of these new services. It allows visitors to a city’s downtown to get around easily without needing a car. For many nearby trips, Bird is a faster and less costly mobility option than Uber or Lyft currently offer.