After flying free for more nearly five months, Bird riders are getting their wings clipped.
The Santa Monica Police Department has officially started cracking down on the city’s 30,000 Bird subscribers, issuing traffic tickets to unsuspecting tourists and locals alike. Last week alone cops stopped 196 people riding motorized scooters throughout the city, issuing a whopping 92 tickets for various traffic violations including failure to wear a helmet, according to Lt. Saul Rodriguez with the SMPD.
“They are issuing citations more aggressively,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve done some education. We are still issuing some warnings.”
Users immediately started squawking.
“@santamonicacity just gave me a $190 ticket for riding a @_birdapp scooter without a helmet,” tweeted local software engineer and entrepreneur Scot Lawrie Friday. “that’s the last time I spend any time/money in Santa Monica (except when they force me to go to court – I’m not allowed to just pay it online)”
Since the underground launch in September, Bird scooters have become a pervasive feature of Santa Monica life, zipping across downtown, up Main Street and through neighborhoods. Local fans, both on social media and in person, have complained laws requiring a helmet to ride a motorized scooter are outdated, since the Birds are limited to 15 miles per hour.
“It’s State law, not a local one,” City Manager Rick Cole recently tweeted. “And explain to the rider who went to the hospital in serious condition with a head injury two weeks ago that she wouldn’t have been better off with a helmet.”
Santa Monica’s top official was referring to a Jan. 10 incident when a Bird rider flew into a moving car at the corner of 6th and Idaho. The scooter rider had blown through a stop sign when she hit the car, which had the right-of-way, according to the SMPD.
The California Vehicle Code defines a motorized scooter as a two-wheeled device with handlebars and a floorboard designed to be stood upon while riding and is powered by an electric motor. Their use requires a Class C License and a bicycle helmet.
City officials are attempting to reign in the unfettered flock of flightless Birds in two ways: by ticketing users and by suing the company for operating without the proper permits. Other rental companies like Segways and bike shops have permits for every location they do business: including drop off points. Since Bird has an ad-hoc network where users can simply dump the scooters wherever they please, the city argues they are improperly operating in the public right of way.
Earlier this year, City Hall filed a criminal complaint against Bird but CEO Travis VanderZanden argued the rules are too vague to govern a new kind of business. In response, the Bird app suddenly got a new feature – a button where users could email city leaders in support of the service. Within days the emails descended on City Hall like Alfred Hitchcock’s birds – as nearly a thousand flooded official inboxes.
In the meantime, locals and continue to use the scooters at their own risk of receiving a hefty fine. The ticket for riding without a helmet, riding on the sidewalk, leaving a scooter in the right-of-way or riding without a license is $190. Riding under the influence of drugs or alcohol results in a $352 fine.