Passersby check out Bird electric scooters parked on the sidewalk along Biltmore Avenue on Oct. 25, the day the e-scooter company dropped about 200 of the scooters on Asheville city streets without first securing the proper city permissions. / photo by Jason Sandford

Bird, the electric scooter rental company, is back at the negotiating table in Asheville.

Representatives of Bird recently met with Meghan Rogers of the Asheville Downtown Association to continue talks about how Bird’s e-scooters might be allowed to be used around town. (The city’s multi-modal transportation committee is also planning to take up the e-scooter issue again soon.) The meeting came a couple of weeks after Asheville City Council passed an ordinance expressly banning the use of e-scooters in Asheville. And that action followed the big splash Bird made back on Oct. 25 when it dropped about 200 of its scooters around downtown Asheville without securing the proper city permissions.

When Asheville City Council met Nov. 27 and passed the e-scooter law, council members made it clear the move was temporary.

Mayor Esther Manheimer, offering background on the e-scooter drop in Asheville, said the city was not caught completely unawares. The company sent an advance person and “we did offer them an opportunity to meet with us and talk with us about what their program is and how they see their service,” she said.

City Transportation Department Director Ken Putnam said city officials had also been hearing about e-scooters in September as it continued to study the feasibility of a bike share program. That study started in 2017.

Asheville city workers pluck Bird electric scooters off downtown streets on Oct. 25, the same day Bird deployed them without permission. Bird put out more scooters the next day, which prompted the city to secure an injunction against Bird. / photo by Jason Sandford

But the company still surprised the city with the Oct. 25. City public works personnel immediately began picking up the scooters and impounding them immediately, with Bird officials promising not to put them back out, Putnam said. But the scooters were out again the next day, and city officials secured a restraining order against Bird.

Manheimer said “it became problematic to do some sort of temporary concept with them,” because “it’s very difficult to work with a company that won’t honor their word.”

Manheimer said she told Bird officials that “my sense of where Asheville’s at right now is that we’re not interested in another company coming here and using our community for their purposes. If they have something to contribute that will benefit our community – if they truly see their product as a transportation solution for locals – that might be something Asheville’s interested in having a conversation about,” she said.

“But if it’s going to add chaos and more management issues,” then probably not, she said.

Putnam, the city’s transportation director, said a more in-depth look at e-scooters would be included in the ongoing bike share study. Results will be delivered to City Council in the spring, he said.

Jeff Kaplan, the new director of Venture Asheville, spoke up during the public comment period of the meeting to say that Bird, “one of the world’s fastest growing start-ups, brings connections, leadership and mentorship to our nascent start-up ecosystem.”

“We need a company like Bird here to show other start-ups what’s possible and help entrepreneurs dream big,” he said.

But resident Peter Landis urged more study, citing concerns about safety.

“I would rather have autonomous vehicles than someone who may not have a brain riding one of these things down the street,” he told City Council.

Councilman Keith Young remarked that he liked the scooters. “They’re interesting,” he said. “I don’t think the conversation ends here.”

The city should take away another lesson from the issue, Young said.

“I think it should be an eye-opening thing that, you know, you can’t move at the speed of government all the time. You can’t take three years to do as study and the next thing pops up,” Young said.

“Private enterprise and people that thrive in a capitalist system don’t wait for government. They make innovation when it happens, as soon as it happens, and it’s up to government to catch up, and I think we need to be more forward-thinking and get ahead of the curve on some of these things.”

This story was corrected on 12/17 to state that a representative of Bird met recently with a representative of the Asheville Downtown Association, not city of Asheville representatives, to continue talks about how Bird’s e-scooters might be used around town.

Bird scooters in downtown Asheville./ photo by Jason Sandford

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6 Comments

  1. F these guys. And the drunken tourists that use their product. Seriously. I was almost hit by them twice in one week while walking my dog on S. Lex.

  2. Downtown Asheville is too small and too overcrowded for these things. Add to the fact they are left all over. Our sidewalks and downtown streets have enough people, cars, bikes etc on them, we do not need to add to them.

  3. “Private enterprise and people that thrive in a capitalist system don’t wait for government…”

    First, I cannot BELIEVE I am hearing an Asheville City Councilman encouraging CAPITALISM (didn’t each candidate have to show their Socialist Party ID card to get on the ballot?).

    Second, “…They make innovation when it happens, as soon as it happens, and it’s up to government to catch up..” sounds a LOT like Facebook’s motto “Move Fast and Break Stuff” and look where we are now: our data collected without consent, our privacy invaded, and our elections manipulated by foreign powers.

    Is THIS the kind of leadership Asheville needs? Might as well put Trump and Zuckerberg on City Council.

  4. These will do nothing to positively contribute to downtown. They will:
    1.) increase DUIs as they will predominantly be used by tourists to jump from one restaurant/brewery to another

    2.) increase pedestrian/scooter collisions by unskilled or impaired operators.

    3.) clutter the sidewalks and curbs of downtown as scooters are ditched to the side after the operator is finished.

    4.) Downtown isn’t that big and people have been walking since the dawn of time. As a city we should be encouraging activities that contribute to health. Not tourists’ convenience.

  5. Mr. Mackey had the right idea what to do with these things.

  6. I wish automobile drivers would stop citing safety concerns when discussing scooters given their mode choice, the automobile is responsible for 40,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries every year.

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