I rode Market Street on my Bird scooter last month, wore AirPods and stayed away from much faster moving cyclists weaving around me while I was snooping around at a painful 12 miles an hour, I started to think I might be the problem .
I cycle at work. I have done this most days here in San Francisco for the past six years or so, and I know what all those cyclists think: "Who is this tech bro doofus, unknowingly in the bike lane on a speed-capped scooter with poor braking capabilities? ? I hope he's dealing with plants. ”I have often thought of aggressive Boosted Board riders and daredevils OneWheel balance boarders and truly dead-wishing individuals who dare to use those InMotion electric unicycles. I thought they all go to great lengths to avoid a good old-fashioned bike.
Yet my fellow cyclists know little that although the AirPods are actually mine (and I take full responsibility for that), the scooter is not. It is a rent, a monthly to be exact. This is San Francisco, which Bird has banned until it jumps through the necessary regulatory hoops, this scooter has not been picked up from the street. It was passed through the elevator in my apartment building where I store and load it.
The rental is part of a new program that the scooter company is trying out in San Francisco, Barcelona and Miami. (The city of Florida was added to the list earlier this month.) What is striking is that San Francisco is a city where Bird has not covered the streets with electric vehicles without a dock because this is not legally possible. From June this year, Bird owns the scooter company Scoot, which is allowed here. But the presence of Scoot remains relatively limited compared to the only other permit holder in the city who was responsible 90 percent of all journeys in the city in the last six months.
For Bird, the goal of this monthly program is two-fold. It's an experiment with a different business model, considering it the current one starts to look fairly suspicious. The company continues to bleed in cash – it lost $ 100 million this year in three months – to expand into new markets and reduce the costs it pays for each ride. The monthly program is also a way for Bird to reinforce its profile in the home of Silicon Valley, the birthplace of the ride-greeting movement from which it took its inspiration, as it brings Scoot to speed and, hopefully, convinces San Francisco to also have it withdrawn.
As someone who found scooters to be very useful, if they were used a little chaotically, in destinations such as Los Angeles and Austin, I thought it was a great experiment to see how well Bird & # 39; s monthly copy did it here as a daily transportation option. After all, San Francisco is a small and sufficiently compact city where scooters can make a huge difference, encouraging an ever-richer base of technology industry commuters to drop off cars for cleaner transport.
Unfortunately, after using this Bird scooter for about 30 days, I can confidently say that my suspicions as a cyclist were more or less on the nose. I should just use a bicycle because in most cases a bicycle is less annoying and faster than this specific Bird scooter model. Also, a bicycle never runs out of batteries.
But the core problem goes deeper. Bird and his fellow electric scooter providers have experienced a meteoric rise because of a simple starting point: a scooter that you rent spontaneously for a short period of time that you do not have to worry about or worry about when you are not riding it. A monthly program like this, where I am encouraged to use it every day and is responsible for well-being, injects all kinds of complications. It betrays the light-hearted, worry-free pillar of the trend & # 39; micro mobility & # 39; which, in fact, is Bird's core business.
I would sing another tune if the scooter was better. If these scooters were to improve, the monthly rental program could even play a central role in growth. Bird offers rentals for the low price of $ 24.99 per month, but it gives you a dinky, slow scooter with around 50 percent of the battery capacity of the standard dockless scooter. It is also capped at about 5 mph slower than the one I drove in LA last month. Those LA scooters really drove and made a strong argument for Bird's presence in dense metropolitan areas where public transportation is missing and you often have to walk two to three miles to your destination.
If you want the best scooter Bird offers, called the Bird One, you can buy one soon for $ 1,299. This results in a premium e-scooter with a top speed of 19 km / h, a range of 30 miles and a maximum weight of 220 pounds. If I could rent Which scooter, even for as much as $ 40 or $ 50 a month, I would do in a heartbeat. (The company is also developing its own moped.) Bird tells me that it is currently & # 39; a few different models for personal rental & # 39; but the one I have is the one advertised on the monthly program website, and I still have a different one around the city.
In most cases, scooters are great to use and less strenuous than cycling. They also take you where you need to be for less money than a Uber or Lyft ride – and at about the same cost as public transportation. After all, scooters caught on because there are quite a few people who like to ride it and consider them useful.
The Bird monthly rental scooter checks many of those boxes before you run into the compromises. I found the process of having it delivered to be relatively seamless: a Bird employee locked it in for my apartment during a time slot of four hours during a predetermined delivery day. From there you control the vehicle via the Bird app, scan the barcode to activate it and use a built-in locking mechanism to free it from whatever it is attached to.
These activation and locking mechanisms are kept separate. So you can choose to tell the app when the scooter is not locked to anything, in case you keep it in your apartment or garage and you can still turn it on. That occasionally led to some weird app hiccups where Bird thought my scooter was on when he was not or unlocked when he was attached to a bike rack. But most problems were solved with an app reset, although it could take a frustrating amount of time when you had to get somewhere quickly. Occasionally I was unable to unlock the scooter due to a bug in Bird & # 39; s app, but that was relatively rare.
When it comes to driving, the Bird feels like a standard e-scooter, only slower. It did terribly on hills (as expected), and on slopes it seems to be deliberately turning on the electric brake to prevent you from getting out of hand, which is a nice security attack that I sometimes wish I wasn't there so I could drive out.
The worst part of the rent was the battery capacity and the fact that I physically dragged the thing around when I couldn't drive it. For example, to get it to my apartment, I often have to keep the scooter activated. If you turn it off and try to push it over the ground, the scooter will beep at you continuously as part of its anti-theft measures. It is not clear why this feature is used on these monthly scooters.
That's why I push an activated scooter into a lift, wait until I get it into my apartment and then turn it off. (Fortunately, the throttle only starts when you go off with your feet.) Only at that moment can I actually connect it to charge it. Taking the scooter out of my apartment, going down a flight of stairs or up the hill next to my building (which he can't physically ride because the engine is too weak) was equally frustrating.
However, the deal breaker is the battery. It takes me around 7.5 to 8 miles on a load on average. That means that I could make a 3.5 km ride to my office and back two days a week, and it would cost a full night. If I decided to drive it somewhere else – to a friend's place or to do a message – there would be about 30 percent left after just one day.
That is not so bad if you can place it somewhere in your apartment every night, but I have a messy living room and it was not easy to make room for it. My garage was also not an ideal environment to keep it in, charge it and unlock it every night (our bike rack is not near a power outlet) because I feared it would be stolen. We have stolen bikes in the past and Bird says you are on the hook for the full price of the scooter if it is caught or seriously damaged.
The company pointed out some of the rental FAQs that indicated it would cost users up to $ 500 for a lost or stolen scooter. Knowing that you rent a scooter worth Bird $ 500 is a good indication of the quality level of the device: solid but not great and perhaps at the level of one of those Xiaomi copies that you can purchase on Amazon however, that comes with much more range and a higher top speed.
So is Bird's program worth it? With $ 25 a month it seems temptingly budget conscious. And for those with short commuter traffic who don't ever plan to cycle and are just looking for a good alternative to public transportation, it is better than relying on Uber or Lyft and certainly faster than walking. But Bird has not done enough to justify why this scooter is necessary. You can't get it off the street or drop it off wherever you want, and there are so many other options, from bicycles to public transportation, that better solve the problem of traveling quickly and cheaply from a short distance.
When I recently found myself in the garage of my apartment building, arrived a bit late for work and thought of the risky 40% battery level of my Bird rental, I decided to take my bike instead. As a result, I would work faster and I would not remain stranded in the office at the end of the day. If Bird can start offering a monthly rental scooter that addresses these issues, I will be the first to sign up.