Sept. 21 2018 10:25 AM

City officials blindsided by rental rollout


FRIDAY, SEPT. 21 — The Bird has landed in downtown Lansing.


Bird Rides LLC made waves earlier this month when it dropped off a fleet of electric scooter rentals in East Lansing without notifying a single city official. And it appears the company today has mimicked the same surprise-style marketing technique in the capital city. More than a dozen are now available to ride in Lansing.


Council members — before they realized the scooters were parked on several street corners early this morning — said the introduction of the rental service would pose safety concerns. Council Vice President Jody Washington would have liked the opportunity to craft an ordinance surrounding their operation before they hit the streets.


And Council President Carol Wood said she’d ask Bird officials to retrieve their unannounced gifts to the city.


“There are some sections in the downtown area that might be wide enough for pedestrians and scooters but there are other sections — especially with outdoor seating — where this could become really congested. At this point, it’s not something that I would see as supportable. We’d notify the company to come pick them up.”


Residents can use an application on their phone to track down and rent the nearest scooter. It costs $1 to rent the device and another 15 cents for every minute thereafter. City ordinances don't directly address the scooters, but company officials advise users to keep them off the sidewalks and in designated bike lanes when possible.


“We can’t have these things zipping down sidewalks and making pedestrians unsafe,” Washington explained. “I’m always concerned when something just pops up. I don’t know how East Lansing is going to deal with this. I’m not opposed to people riding scooters, but I’m concerned about the safety of pedestrians downtown.”


Earlier this month, Michigan State University and the city of East Lansing — among other communities across the country — were also blindsided by Bird. The East Lansing Police Department has since adopted a hands-off approach to enforcement as officials work to regulate their usage. But MSU wants them off the streets.


“The company did not consult with MSU first, and no permit paperwork has been filed with the university to allow them to legally operate on campus,” an MSU spokesperson said. “The company responded they were interested in discussing how to get into compliance, but thus far, no further discussions have taken place.”


Bird officials were not immediately available to provide comment this week.


A cease-and-desist letter sent to the company on Friday indicated the scooters cannot be driven on MSU sidewalks or bike lanes, nor parked anywhere on campus. Capt. Doug Monett with the MSU Police Department said 23 have since been impounded for obstructing traffic flow within various roadways and bicycle lanes.


Officials in Ann Arbor said nearly 30 Bird scooters have been impounded for the same reasons earlier this month. They’re working on a licensing agreement that would establish rules for where the scooters can be driven and parked but they’ve yet to solidify any formal rules guiding their operation, a city spokesperson explained.


“I didn’t like how they just dropped them off in the city,” added East Lansing City Councilmember Ruth Beier. “If you want to run a business in the city, we want to make sure the products are safe and that the company is registered. We also have an income tax that we want to make sure is being paid.”


Beier said she was “sort of impressed” with the marketing technique, but didn’t appreciate it as a city official. She likes the idea of providing alternative modes of transportation for local residents and plans to work with the company to devise a set of rules that can guide their usage both in East Lansing and throughout MSU’s campus.


“Had they came to us together, we might have been able to come up with a set of rules that we can all use,” Beier explained. “Now you have students riding them in East Lansing and they get to campus and everything changes. We’re not on the same page at all. We’re on totally different chapters right now.”


A spokesperson for Mayor Andy Schor’s office said City Council has worked with Lime, another scooter rental company, to enact an ordinance regulating their usage but until this morning they were unaware of any Bird rentals available in downtown Lansing.


Schor said the scooters are not prohibited by ordinance but they need to stay off sidewalks in the downtown shopping district. Officials at the Lansing Police Department weren’t immediately available for comment.


Washington suggested a discussion on the topic would likely surface at a City Council meeting on Monday.


Visit lansingcitypulse.com for continued coverage and for updates as they become available.