It was 1:30 a.m. Sunday, and I had just finished my second booze-infused Capri-Sun at Ruby Deluxe. Time to go home. But an Uber would have cost almost $10 with tip. Having already spent too much at the bar, I began to hoof it. It was about 45 degrees outside. I’m a single woman standing just above five feet tall. I had just over a mile to go.
And then I came upon a Lime scooter—a stroke of luck, because they’re usually scooped up by chargers around 9:00 p.m.—and for $1.85, I was home in five minutes.
That may never happen again.
On Thursday, dockless electric scooter operators Bird and Lime announced they would be leaving Raleigh, citing the strict and costly regulations imposed on them by the city council. Those rules included a $300-per-scooter fee, which caused Bird to jack up its prices by $2 per ride. In the months since, I’ve noticed that most Birds have disappeared from the streets. And now, by the end of April, they will migrate away from Raleigh and off to more accommodating cities that don’t feel the need to regulate them into extinction.
One thing that always struck me about the scooters was how happy people looked riding them. They’d laugh and smile, even as they clumsily climbed a curb on a first ride. This is not something to glance over—it’s hard to get people excited about green transportation. Most people I see sweating on their bikes aren’t smiling and laughing. Not only were the scooters cheap and convenient, but they were also fun.
A secret code had been cracked to get people excited about alternative transportation. Then the Raleigh City Council freaked out.
Right off the bat, the council majority began to harp on safety concerns—people could trip on them, get slammed on the sidewalk, DIE. Council member Dickie Thompson chided pro-scooter colleague Nicole Stewart, “If it’s your child or someone else’s child who gets hit after this meeting today, then I think we’ll have been shortsighted on this.”
There have—so far—been no scooter-related fatalities in Raleigh, although some people have gotten injured. Not as many people, of course, as get into car crashes every day in the city.
Regardless, the council opted to place these restrictions on Bird and Lime, including fees that added $195,000 to the city’s coffers. Bird quickly cut its fleet down to 150 scooters and jacked up its price. Just a week ago, transportation director Michael Moore said the city had been negotiating with the companies on adding designated parking spaces for the scooters and sharing data.
Thursday’s announcement took everyone by surprise. Tuesday was the deadline for companies to submit proposals for the city’s bidding process. The city got five proposals—from Bolt, Lyft, Gotcha, Spin, and VeoRide—but Bird and Lime weren’t among them. (Bird and Lime are seeking to operate scooters in Durham, as are Gotcha, Spin, and Lyft.)
“I was afraid that they had made a mistake and had maybe forgot about the day or missed the day or that it had been lost in transition,” Moore says. “Frankly, I did not know what was going on so I was just afraid that something may have been lost in the mail.”
Although Bird and Lime are competitors, the move was coordinated.
This is actually the first time both scooter operators in a major city have pulled out at the same time. The rules doom their business model, they claim. This hasn’t been the case in Charlotte, Bird officials noted, which didn’t place heavy restrictions on the scooters and where the company enjoys an “awesome working relationship,” according to Sam Reed, who directs Bird’s government relations.
“Unfortunately, Raleigh city officials refuse to amend their burdensome regulations on e-scooter providers, and it no longer makes sense for us to provide our service under the city’s restrictive leadership,” Reed says. “Our time in Raleigh must come to a close, but we hope to return in the future when city officials are ready to be more amenable to our business and industry as well as the needs of their constituents.”
While Bird will leave the city next month, it’s unclear when Lime—which has become more popular as Bird decreased its presence—will go. City staffers will recommend up to four preferred scooter operators to the city council as early as May 7.
Council member Stef Mendell says she’s optimistic.
“I understand that the scooters are really helpful for the environment and they provide transportation for people who don’t have other options, but we also had a lot of concerns from people about safety,” Mendell says. “Nobody wants to run scooters out of town. We’re just trying to find the right balance. Make scooters available for lots of people, but in a way that is safe.”
Downtown business owner Zack Medford doesn’t see it that way. An early scooter advocate, he came out with a public service announcement on Facebook to encourage safe ridership. He said the news that Bird and Lime would be leaving this week—combined with Durham’s decision to abandon light rail and that the Raleigh Planning Commission’s approval of rules for Airbnb without a whole-house option—was surreal.
“I’m extremely disappointed. I think that city council’s intention was to tax this thing out of existence and they’ve succeeded,” Medford says. “Everything that brought people to Raleigh and made people excited about this city is all of sudden being banned or taxed out of existence. [Scooters were] an option Raleigh citizens truly enjoyed having and we’re going to miss it a lot.”
While Moore says that “it is not the end of scooters for Raleigh, despite what a lot of people are saying,” it’s hard to imagine how these five new companies will find viable business models if the two biggest scooter operators in the country couldn’t make it work.
For me, I’m bummed the scooters won’t be around, at least for a while. As someone who works downtown and can’t afford to pay up to $12 a day to park, the scooters have saved me the cost of an Uber multiple times and ensured I wasn’t late to more than a few last-minute press conferences.
I never got hurt on them. I never hurt anyone else. And I tried to follow the rules.
I hope these new companies have better luck.
Otherwise, residents who want innovative solutions to the city’s transportation issues had better make their own luck at the polls. The election is seven months away.
Don’t you realize that you exposed yourself to a potential DUI charge while riding that scooter after drinking booze? Regardless, good riddance to those horrific scooters.
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