Norfolk has joined the growing ranks of U.S. cities saying “no” to scooters, impounding hundreds owned by one of the nation’s largest operators.
The coastal city in Virginia has impounded 560 Bird scooters since the company opened shop, unannounced, in late August. Bird now owes the city $93,365 in fines and fees for the vehicles.
“We are keeping the scooters locked in a secure facility,” city spokeswoman Lori Crouch said. And they will remain there until Bird pays the fine— $35 per scooter for retrieval and $5 per scooter, per day, for storage.
Several cities and university campuses across the country are taking similar action to keep scooters off their sidewalks as the services push their way into more markets. In many places, the companies operate with the blessing of local governments, but in others tensions remain high as jurisdictions struggle with how to keep them out or regulate them.
In Santa Cruz, Calif., where the city says Bird has made “unpermitted scooter deployments,” the company owes about $32,000 for fines associated with the confiscation of 177 scooters that are still in city possession. In Stillwater, Okla., officials said they have impounded 219 Bird scooters and charged the company $8,295 in fines. Bird owes more than $445,000 to the University of Georgia, which has rounded up nearly 1,100 Bird scooters left on campus, a university spokesman said. Virginia Beach has impounded more than 200 Bird scooters, the Virginian-Pilot reported this week.
A Bird spokeswoman said in an email statement Wednesday that the company continues to pursue partnerships with the cities and hopes to make progress.
“We believe we share those cities' goals of improving mobility for residents and visitors, and we’ve been hoping to have productive conversations with leaders and officials in order to reach an agreement that works for everyone,” the statement said.
Bird has been known for entering U.S. markets unannounced — similar to Uber and other transportation start-ups. The company’s rationale has been that if there are no regulations prohibiting their operations, there is no harm in launching without permission.
David Estrada, head of government relations and policy at Bird, said in an interview earlier this year that the company looks at city ordinances and state law and won’t launch in a city where an analysis shows it is illegal.
“What has happened in some cities is, some of them have pushed back,” Estrada said.
Bird surprised Norfolk in late August, when it dropped hundreds of scooters on its streets without giving the city a heads-up. The company’s intrusion, Crouch said, ignored city code that bans objects such as scooters on sidewalks and other city property. Bird’s arrival was a blow to city officials who were in talks with another vendor.
Now it’s unclear if, or when, the city might allow the services. A city task force is set to issue a recommendation next month about how it should proceed.
Meanwhile, Bird scooters continue to appear on Norfolk sidewalks and the company hasn’t made any effort to recover those that have been impounded, officials said.
“We’re open to new, alternative transportation options,” Crouch said, noting that it successfully launched a bike-share program in April. “We just ask that companies work with us.”