A fleet of “Birds” landed in Battle Creek at the end of May, but instead of flying through the air, this species of avian flies down city streets in the form of shared electric scooters from a company called Bird.
“I love it, I ain’t going to lie, I really do," says Darrion Newton, who was out with a friend on their second scooter adventure in as many days. "It’s just something new to Battle Creek. We don’t get too much new stuff around here like that.”
Assistant Battle Creek City Manager Ted Dearing says that's one of the reasons the city decided to allow Bird to operate in the city.
“I think communities that try these things like a shared scooter service send a message that they are progressive and willing to try things,” says Dearing, who admits with a chuckle that he hasn’t ridden one yet himself. “I did put the app on my phone because I was going to ride it. But I don’t get out enough to take advantage of the opportunity,” he says. “As soon as I get the opportunity, I plan to jump on one and give it a ride.”
Riders who are over 18 must download the Bird app on their phone to find scooters because Bird doesn’t have a store or central location in the cities where it operates. Instead, they charge and scatter about 25 of the 40 scooters in Battle Creek’s fleet each day around the city on a rotating basis in places where the company hopes people might want to use them.
Once a rider finds a scooter, they scan the QR code on its handle bar to activate it. Customers pay by the minute and are allowed to travel on roads and bike lanes at a maximum speed of 10 mph on most streets downtown and north of Columbia Avenue, and as fast as 15 mph on paths in Battle Creek's Linear Park. Riders are encouraged to wear helmets but it's not required.
“Yesterday was my first time riding it,” Darrion Newton says, “I saw six or eight other people riding them. They’re everywhere, honestly. And the prices, they ain’t too bad.”
Bird approached Battle Creek in early May 2021 for permission to operate at no cost to the city. The company is already operating in Detroit, Bay City, and other Michigan cities. Bird launched a fleet of 75 scooters in Bay City over the July Fourth holiday weekend. Dearing says Battle Creek studied issues in those cities and the ordinances they developed to regulate e-scooters and prevent problems. Battle Creek’s electric scooter regulations are based primarily on those in Lansing.
“We’re starting a little bit small but if there’s demand it will grow over time, Dearing says. "But ultimately, we want people to be responsible when using them. The shared scooter service will be a real plus for the city if it doesn’t become a headache because the units are left in inconvenient or inappropriate places. So, we’re asking residents to have fun, enjoy the service, and just be responsible.”
But, as in other cities, Bird is ruffling a few feathers in Battle Creek. Brennon Shook has young kids. He had to maneuver a baby stroller around an improperly abandoned scooter on his way to the playground where his four-year-old plays.
“I’ve heard good things about them," Shook says. "People ride them all the time. I see people going down the street by my house. But I just hate seeing people leaving them in the sidewalk. It’s hard to walk the baby with a stroller because there’s one right next to me that was left in the middle of the sidewalk.”
Battle Creek's scooter ordinance is clear: riders must park them out of the way of pedestrians, vehicle traffic, and driveways. Dearing says it's incumbent on riders to be good citizens.
“In most cases, you have to take a picture of the unit that you’re using when you depart so that you will stop being charged for using that unit,” Dearing says. “We recognize that people might come along and just grab a unit and put it in an inconvenient place and we hope that wouldn’t happen.”
People who have questions or concerns about the scooters can call Bird at (866) 205-2442 or email a complaint to hello-at-bird-dot-co.