Electric scooters, the latest form of disruptive transportation technology, have arrived in Bakersfield.
Bird, the leading e-scooter company, scattered about 200 rentable scooters on city sidewalks overnight Thursday and was officially in business on Friday morning.
"Today, Bird brings its fleet of electric scooters to Bakersfield to help meet the town’s need for transit options that are accessible, affordable, and reliable," the Venice-based company said in an email Friday.
E-scooters, as they're known, have proliferated in cities across the United States, Europe and even the Middle East. The companies are an outgrowth of the tech industry and operate much like Uber and Lyft — connecting people in need of transportation with a ride through an app on a mobile device.
The scooters have already become mainstays in larger cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta, with Bird rapidly expanding its product across the country.
On the scooters’ first day in Bakersfield, some residents took to the streets for a few minutes of fun on the city’s latest transportation opportunity, while others were more skeptical of the two-wheeled venture.
“I think it’s awesome. It’s going to help people get in and out. It’s green and environmentally friendly,” said Nick Hansa, owner of Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar. “I think it’s a great step in the right direction for our city."
But the company and others like it have come under frequent criticism that their scooters are annoying sidewalk hazards that show up without being asked.
“They just literally put all the (scooters) on the bike rack. The bike racks are supposed to be used for bikes,” said Belisario Dena, a bartender at Tiki-Ko, a tropical cocktail bar. “Those things are going to be everywhere. I can picture us coming to work one day and all those things are going to be laid on the ground.”
Scooter companies like Bird have embraced such "guerrilla marketing" tactics by brazenly entering a new market, often dropping dozens or hundreds of scooters in a city before consulting local officials. The idea is the trend will catch on among city dwellers so quickly officials will be pressured to allow the scooters to stay. Cities, however, have pushed back in some cases, concerned with safety issues and the sight of scooters randomly strewn on sidewalks and street corners.
Indeed, the company caught Bakersfield officials off guard.
City Manager Alan Tandy said he began receiving pictures of the scooters when he arrived at work Friday morning. Shortly thereafter, the city received an email from Bird requesting a meeting to discuss the scooters.
The city plans to take the company up on the offer.
"It may well be a good thing if it is done properly," Tandy said.
“Bird hopes to work closely with city officials to develop a framework that works for everyone so that the Bakersfield community can have access to our fun and affordable transportation option,” according to the email statement by Bird.
The city wasn't alone in being surprised by Bird's arrival.
Bike Bakersfield had been working with city officials and Golden Empire Transit for over a year to bring electric scooters and bicycles to Bakersfield though a state grant. The nonprofit organization hoped to debut the new system in April, but now they face an unforeseen competitor.
They remain undaunted, however.
“This doesn’t change what we’re trying to do with bike share at all,” said Bike Bakersfield Board Secretary Cindy Parra. “This is just a different component to transportation.”
She noted that Bird provides only electric scooters, while Bike Bakersfield will provide both electric scooters and electric bicycles.
She sees a future where both organizations can exist peacefully together.
“We’re a hundred percent behind anything that gets people using different modes of transportation and gets them outside,” she said. “We are all for them. With education, I think it will be a good thing for Bakersfield.”
Prior to its Bakersfield launch, Bird introduced the electric scooters to Frisco, Texas, and Lafayette, La., a company representative said in a phone interview with The Californian.
“Bird scooters offer a new, environmentally friendly transportation option to help get residents in Bakersfield where they need to go while getting cars off the road, reducing traffic, and cutting carbon emissions,” according to the email statement from Bird. “In September, we celebrated 10 million rides on Bird scooters across 100 communities, and we are excited to continue that growth in Bakersfield.”