I grabbed an early dinner this week with some friends and caught wind of the new dockless electric scooters sweeping through Kansas City. If you haven’t heard, Bird is an electric scooter rental service. It’s like a bike-share system, but with electric scooters. And you don’t have to return them to a station. You can just leave them pretty much anywhere you’d leave your own bike (so not blocking the street, a driveway, or sidewalk). Sounds easy, right? I had to find out for myself.
So, how does Bird work?
First, you have to download the app. It’ll ask you to enter your email, then you’ll be able to view a map of nearby Birds (aka electric scooters). You can also tap on a scooter to see how much battery it has left. If you can find one within walking distance, grab your helmet (seriously, wear a helmet) and swoop that thing before its gone! Since there’s no station, the Birds are just scattered about the city.
The Bird I found was maybe three blocks away. Perfect! I could hardly contain my excitement once I spotted my bird.
Next, you’ll need to scan the front and back of your driver’s license (this is a motorized vehicle, okay?) and a credit or debit card (or you can use Apple Pay. That’s what I did). Then, you’ll scan the QR code located between the handlebars on the scooter. Thankfully, the camera scanning feature worked well so I didn’t have to stand there and fiddle with it much. You’ll also have to accept the terms of service and safety agreement before riding.
How do they ride?
Honestly, it’s pretty intuitive. Push down with your thumb to accelerate and let off to slow down. There’s a handbrake on the left handlebar, and a foot one on the back wheel (you step on it). I’m not the most coordinated, especially on wheels, but I found it to be pretty simple. Like a bike, you’ll ride in the street and stay to the right! Stay alert and keep your peripherals peeled. The bike only has one tiny red reflector on the back so you’re really not that visible and they’re definitely not meant for night riding. And for god’s sake, don’t wear headphones. Ya gotta be able to hear the cars approaching from behind (or any other direction, really). Some of KC’s streets aren’t the smoothest, especially near the curb. Beware of potholes and bumpy roads so the Bird doesn’t send you flying. And be careful riding downhill. You’ll pick up more speed than you might want. The app actually specifically says not to ride down steep hills. That kinda freaked me out, but once I got comfortable making turns and going up and down slight inclines, I gave it a shot on a slightly busier street. Lo and behold, it was fun– probably more fun than I expected it to be!
How do they charge the Birds?
Riders don’t have to charge the Birds, but riders have the option to become a “charger.” There’s a button in the app for that. Chargers go around in the evening and pick up all the Birds and load them into their car (or walk them back if they live in a good location for that). They have to be able to charge at least three birds at a time, and they’re paid around $5 per bird depending on how difficult it is to find. In the morning, they release the Birds back into the wild for riders to use again.
What’s the verdict?
The scooter was easy to find and easy to rent. Riding it was fun and intuitive, but you’ll definitely want to play it safe with road conditions and the traffic. Since I didn’t have to return it, I just left it outside of my final destination in an out of the way spot that was still easy for others to find. Renting a Bird costs $1, then 15 cents per minute. That comes out to about $9/hour, plus tax. I rode for 17 minutes, and 0.8 miles. This cost me $3.55.
I live about 2.3 miles from my work, which I would estimate to be about a 20-25 minute scooter ride. With Bird, that would cost me about $4-5 a ride. To get to work and back would set me back $8-10 each day. I work five days a week, aaaaand you can do the math. Plus, there’s no guarantee that when I leave work I’ll even be able to find a Bird to ride home. While fun, I wouldn’t consider this an economically friendly way to commute on a regular basis. Kansas City’s B-Cycle program costs $3 for every 30 minutes and offers weekly and monthly rates for regular riders. Not to mention, the B-Cycle also has a basket for your stuff, while the Bird does not (womp). It’s hard to argue for the Bird with the B-Cycle’s lower price, though you’d have to find a B-Cycle station and actually pedal yourself (how analog). For driving, a gallon of gas in Kansas City right now costs around $2.60 and I can get around 22 miles out of that. That being said, the Bird (or a bike) might be able to save you some time sitting in traffic.
Side note: If you’re worried about the environmental impact of driving, remember that Bird chargers have to drive around and find the Bird riders litter all over the city. Depending on how many chargers there are, and what kinds of cars they drive, it’s hard to say Bird really lessens our dependency on fuel.
Are these scooters for the birds? While the Bird is great for leisure riding, it doesn’t really solve any of the major problems large cities face when it comes to commuting. It’s still a great time and I’d use it for short trips just to feel the wind in my hair– or whatever. It’s greatest weakness? The Bird’s ability to fall prey to cheap bird puns. For that, I give it 4/5 stars. Very fun. Would ride again.