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Bird scooters are back. Are they here to stay?

Bird

Bird scooters sit at Jastro Park near downtown Bakersfield last week.

Two years after a fleet of electric scooters gave Bakersfield residents an early Christmas surprise, the company behind the alternative mode of transportation has done it again.

Bird, a Santa Monica micromobility company, last dropped off 200 scooters to Bakersfield in December 2018. Although local residents were quick to try out the new phenomenon, it appears something went wrong. At some point over the last year, Bird scooters dwindled and then disappeared entirely from city streets.

But now they have recently returned, and some in Bakersfield are hopeful that they are here to stay.

“It’s a Christmas wish come true for me,” said Andrae Gonzales, a city councilman who represents the city’s central core. “When Bird scooters left the area awhile back it was very disappointing for me because I thought it brought a lot to downtown Bakersfield.”

For Gonzales, the electric scooters bring an array of benefits to the city. For one, they create excitement, especially downtown where they can be used to zip from store to store. Secondly, they encourage people to get out of their car and use a different mode of transportation.

It might even help out the city’s bus service.

“In a city that is so spread out, it is very difficult for people to utilize public transportation, and sometimes people don’t see that as being a very practical form of everyday transportation,” Gonzales said. “So these scooters really help with that last mile problem. Someone can take a scooter from the bus stop to their place of work, and I think that is very beneficial.”

A Bird representative did not answer a question from The Californian about the company’s last stay in Bakersfield. A recent report on CNBC said electric scooter companies Bird and Lime had struggled during the coronavirus pandemic, laying off hundreds of workers between the two.

Over an email, Bird said it had returned just in time for the holidays “as the ideal socially distant way to get around.” Following that line of reasoning, Bird is offering free rides to health care workers and emergency personnel.

“A growing list of cities, states, and countries are looking to micromobility alternatives, such as scooters and bikes, not only as a means of minimizing congestion, but also as a way to maintain current social distancing norms,” the company said in a statement. “We are excited to work with the City of Bakersfield to offer residents safe and sustainable transportation during the pandemic and beyond.”

Around 100 scooters have been deposited in Bakersfield, and the city has granted Bird an encroachment permit to operate for one year. As part of the permit, the scooters cannot be operated or parked within the Kern River Parkway and adjacent city-operated parks and green spaces, according to city spokesman Joe Conroy.

Whether Bird is back for good remains to be seen. The company is offering discounts to low-income riders, as well as Pell Grant recipients, certain nonprofits, and community organizations, veterans and senior citizens. There is even a “gentle acceleration” mode for new riders who might be leery of hopping on the machines.

“I’ve already seen people use them almost every day now,” Gonzales said. “I’ve seen riders and it’s exciting. I can’t wait to spend a few days this Christmas break riding a scooter.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.