Bird, a California-based scooter-share company, has wreaked havoc in Charleston County in a few short days.
Mt. Pleasant was the latest host of the scooter-share virus that's been plaguing cities nationwide.
One day after Charleston sent a cease and desist later to California-based startup Bird following an unlicensed two-day "pilot program," motorized scooters became available for rent across the Ravenel Bridge.
Except that Charleston's suburban neighbors weren't having any of it.
By late Tuesday morning, Mt. Pleasant police officers were rounding up the app-activated scooters. Bird applied for a business license in Mt. Pleasant the same morning, according to city spokesperson Martine Wolfe, though it remains unclear if the company submitted its application before or after it made its scooters available for use.
Regardless, the company clearly wasn't approved to operate this morning.
"[Mt. Pleasant Police Department] picked up all the scooters and is coordinating with the company for pick up," Wolfe said in an email Tuesday afternoon.
A Bird spokesperson appeared optimistic about the startup's future in Mt. Pleasant in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
"Bird has been working cooperatively with city officials in Mt. Pleasant so that our affordable, environmentally friendly vehicles can be available to the community, and we look forward to continuing those productive conversations with local leaders," the spokesperson said.
Bird's scooters are calibrated to go a maximum of 15 miles per hour, and they cost $1 to unlock and 15 cents a minute, according to the company. By 7 a.m., they're parked at "nests" throughout the city, where riders can pick them up at sunrise. They're only available for use during the day and users can pick them up and drop them off at their will, wherever they like, until sundown.
On Craigslist, Bird has been listing $100-per-night job openings since at least July 27. The jobs were for "chargers," people willing to pick up scooters in the evening and charge them for the company.
The company was founded last year by former Uber and Lyft executive Travis Vanderzanden and is now valued at $2 billion
. Their scooter service has since launched in 30 cities, according to a press release.
The latest drama in Mt. P. comes after the City of Charleston issued a strongly-worded cease and desist letter calling the scooters "trip hazards and eye sores." The company removed its devices from the peninsula's streets on Monday.
Bird tried to apply for a business license in Charleston last week, but they were stopped short of paying a $163.70 license fee after city staff told them that their business would interfere with the city's rules. Section 54-223 of the city's code prohibits the "short term rental of amusement and recreational vehicles" south of Mount Pleasant Street and specifically mentions "scooters or skateboards powered by fuel or batteries."
The ordinance, which created an Amusement & Recreation Overlay Zone, was originally passed in 1996 in reference to mopeds only. Charleston City Council expanded the ordinance to include scooters, among other devices, on Oct. 13, 1998.
A spokesperson for the S.C. Secretary of State told City Paper
that as of Tuesday, she did not see "anything resembling" Bird Rides, Inc. — the name the company used to register in Tennessee
— as being registered to operate within South Carolina.
The scooter-share industry has been the source of headaches for pedestrians and city officials across the country in recent months.
We reached out to other nearby cities to see how they'd react if Bird pulls the same act-now-think-later stunt within their limits. Here's what we've heard so far:
"Sullivan’s Island has not seen any rental stations or incidents involving these scooters. However, open-air rental or sale of any product or commodity would be prohibited for some of the same reasons cited in the Charleston cease and desist letter."
"The Zoning Ordinance only allows commercial activity from within buildings in our Commercial Zoning District, the two block area along Middle Street. Mobile vending or transient retail/rental uses are not listed, therefore are not allowed on Sullivan’s Island."
"It seems that the concept involves renting scooters on sidewalks and streets, which would establish a point of sale outside of a building and therefore would not be allowed."
— Sullivan's Island Director of Planning and Zoning Joe Henderson
"If the company applies for a business license, we would go through our regular process of analyzing our business, zoning, and public safety ordinances prior to granting a license depending on their proposed business activities and location. However, if the situation were similar to what happened in Mt. Pleasant and Charleston, they would be cited by the Business License Official for doing business without a license. Further, any scooters blocking the roadway or the sidewalk would be removed by our Public Safety Department."
— Folly Beach City Administrator E. Spencer Wetmore