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US electric scooter hire firm Bird launches London pilot

Patrick McDonnell
12 November 2018
Bird electric scooters
Bird electric scooters

 

US electric scooter manufacturer Bird is launching a pilot scheme at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The company, which operates in around 40 American cities, believes that its pilot scheme will demonstrate the usefulness of this hop-on, hop-off form of transport.

The scooters are unlocked using an app. They are time-managed, being only available between the hours of 07.00 and 21.00. The scooters are collected and charged overnight.

Bird believes this will overcome problems that have plagued some bike sharing schemes across the UK, theft, vandalism and late-night drunks, will be avoided.

The pilot scheme is only operational in the Olympic Park, which is private land. The use of GPS tracking on the scooters means any attempt to take them across the park boundary will lead to them powering down. 

The trial is happening on private land because electric scooters cannot be driven on either public roads or footpaths in the UK. This has held back the likes of Bird, and its competitor Lime, from introducing their electric scooters into the UK. Bird hopes to get the law changed within 12 months.

Bird’s UK chief Richard Corbett told the BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones said the scooters have a place in the urban transport mix. Schemes operating in the USA, Paris and Amsterdam have shown that they can be a safe transport mode, he said.

The company is hoping that demonstrating the scheme at the Olympic Park will build momentum towards getting the law changed, enabling Bird to start commercial operations on the capital’s streets. 

However, the BBC's Cellan-Jones said that that sounded “very optimistic”, pointing to the experiences of other ambitious US mobility companies such as Uber as evidence that London’s regulators are likely to be cautious about moving so fast.

Users will pay £1 to unlock a scooter and then 20p per minute, which is more costly than the free shuttle bus-taking people to Stratford station. 

If Bird does get approval to operate in London, Cellan-Jones wondered if users might question paying £5 for a 20-minute ride. Cellan-Jones asked: “Perhaps it is the future of short hop transport - or perhaps the Silicon Valley venture capitalists have lost touch with the reality of how ordinary mortals move across cities. Only time will tell.”

How the Bird pilot scheme works:

  • Download the Bird app on your smartphone:
  • Create an account and verify your age with a driving license (you must be 18+ to ride).
  • Open the app and find the nearest scooter.
  • Scan the code on the top of the scooter to unlock it and start your trip.
  • Once you’ve reached the destination, make sure to leave the scooter in a responsible place (i.e. not blocking a pavement), and end the trip on the app.
 
 
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