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Clean Transport

Bird Expands Into Seattle

In a tweet from a couple of weeks ago, Bird (the scooter rental company) announced that it is going to start putting its electric scooters on sidewalks in Seattle, Washington. This was part of an initiative by the City of Seattle to choose scooter operators that they think would do a good and safe job in the city.

“In addition to welcoming back Lime and LINK (by Superpedestrian), we are excited to welcome Bird.” Seattle DOT said in their post announcing the decision. “Bird operates in over 400 cities and has a demonstrated commitment to safety and sustainability. They will bring their newest third generation of scooters to Seattle, which offers a safer ride and longer battery life than their earlier models.”

Seattle said it chose applicants based on their proposals’ commitment to “safety, community engagement, and continual improvement, as well as considering the needs of other people traveling on streets, sidewalks, bike paths, and trails.” Two other companies, Wheels and Spin, were not chosen for the project, but the city tried to be nice and say that they were grateful for the service the company provided from 2020-2022.

Bird’s permit will allow them to place up to 2,000 scooters.

Why Seattle Chose Bird

It all comes down to Bird’s efforts to improve safety, provide greater accessibility, and help people do a better job at parking.

To improve safety, Bird’s latest scooter comes with the industry’s longest and most stable foot board (where you stand), auto emergency braking, a beginner mode for new riders, and new tires that absorb shocks to prevent loss of control. Between all of these things, Seattle DOT was apparently impressed enough to choose them.

When it comes to accessibility, Bird offers an alternative service for disabled people who can’t ride the scooters. Sitting mobility scooters are available right in the Bird app, allowing anybody to get access to clean micromobility instead of having to rely on a janky folding wheelchair or other things that are hard to get on a plane or bus.

Finally, Bird uses what they call the Bird Visual Parking System (VPS). VPS asks a customer ending a ride to scan the surrounding area with Google augmented reality technology, and then scan the scooter’s QR code. This then helps the user to know for sure, down the centimeter level, whether they’ve got the scooter in the right area.

“The new ARCore Geospatial API from Google is an absolute game changer for micromobility that allows us to offer cities a first-of-its-kind Visual Parking System that’s unmatched in terms of accuracy and scalability,” said Justin Balthrop, Chief Technology Officer at Bird. “With Bird VPS, we’re able to meet cities’ number one need, proper parking, in a way that’s never been possible before, and we’re able to do it at scale in cities around the world thanks to Google’s robust global data and technology.”

When people follow the rules (they get a fine if they don’t), this keeps scooters from littering the sidewalk and endangering people who might trip over them. It also helps the disabled and other sidewalk users (like upcoming small delivery robots) from getting blocked by things that shouldn’t be there.

Obviously, Bird isn’t the only company doing things to keep shared micromobility safe, but this does give us a look at what cities and providers are doing to take advantage of it without causing problems.

Featured image: a closeup of Bird’s latest scooter. Image provided by Bird.

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Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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