- Mobility company Bird released on Wednesday a suite of technologies for local governments, dubbed GovTech Platform, designed to help manage electric scooters.
- The platform includes four key elements: data dashboards, geo-fencing, community mode and rider education. The dashboards allow cities to track anonymized data related to scooter use; geo-fencing will show city-designated no-scooter zones; community mode allows citizens to report irresponsible scooter behavior on the Bird app; and education will occur through in-app messages to Bird users before every trip.
- The platform will only work with Bird's scooters, not those from competitors.
Bird and other dockless device companies have had a contentious relationship with dozens of communities' leaders. The devices are blamed for creating clutter when left in — or sometimes intentionally put in — inappropriate places. Part of the problem is that cities didn't have regulations governing the motorized devices prior to their arrival. Another problem is that the devices suddenly appear scattered on a city's streets, which leaves leaders feeling flat-footed. In some cases, like in Milwaukee, bad blood ensued when Bird refused to remove the scooters when authorities pushed back.
Details are few on how much of the responsibility for implementing and keeping up with the tools is on municipalities and how much is on Bird. For example, it's unclear if city employees will have to manually enter and change data for no-scooter zones or check for any citizen feedback submitted through the app's "community mode." That could be an element that changes over time, but Bird's statement that the tools will "help local governments incorporate and manage e-scooters" implies that the onus will be on the city.
Requiring municipal employees to perform such tasks has the potential to be a sticking point. Another drawback is that the platform only works with Bird scooters, essentially forcing municipalities to stick only with Bird or do double duty with managing competitors scooters' in another fashion. Plus, Bird didn't mention if there will be a financial cost for cities to obtain the toolkit.
Despite the sticking points, the fact that Bird went through the effort to create this toolkit shows a good faith effort to mend fences with frustrated city leaders. The company's statement indicates that it collaborated with cities when devising the platform, opening the door for future public-private collaborations. Even if this turns out not to be a 100% perfect technology suite, it could benefit cities without municipal employees having to design their own management system.
This isn't the only community-forward action that Bird has taken. It previously set up a fund to create protected bike lanes and established a discount program for low-income riders. Similarly, competitor Lime also offers discounts for low-income riders.