If you’ve visited downtown Columbia recently, you’ve probably seen them.
They’re big and they’re grey, with a white stripe down the front. And they’re not very fast – when they’re really flying, they top out at about 15 mph.
They’re Bird scooters, and they’re popping up in college towns across the U.S.
The electric rental scooters have been in town for the past three weeks after the company Bird Rides chose Columbia to be part of its “University Pop-Up Tour.”
Bird didn’t approve the scooters with Columbia before bringing them to the city. MU spokesperson Liz McCune said the university wasn’t informed, either.
“It just seemed like overnight there were several dozen of the scooters on campus,” McCune said. “This company seems to go ahead and move forward with their plans and ask for forgiveness later. And that is not a business strategy that we welcome.”
Currently, Bird is applying for a Columbia business license.
Young adults tend to be at the front of the pack when it comes to new technology, according to the Pew Research Center. So when Bird decided to drop its scooters in a town with more than 30,000 college students, it already had a good chunk of the population that knew what the scooters are and how to use them right away. It’s the controversial strategy the company continues to use across the country.
Just this weekend, Birds showed up – unannounced – in Ann Arbor, Michigan (where the University of Michigan is located) and West Lafayette, Indiana (home of Purdue University).
As soon as West Lafayette Deputy Police Chief Troy Harris became aware of the scooters, he notified the company it had 24 hours to remove the scooters before they were impounded.
“I think it’s actually kind of a neat concept,” Harris said. “I think it’ll really be embraced by our student population, but there has to be a partnership – there has to be communication. There has to be a plan in place for it to be successful.”
Lack of communication seems to be a common complaint among cities included in Bird’s University Pop-Up Tour.
When MU officials spoke with Bird on August 27, they gave the company a list of safety and logistical concerns. MU still hasn’t received a response. The West Lafayette Police Department also hasn’t heard back from the company. Bird did not respond to an interview request from KBIA, either.
In the meantime, MU plans to continue enforcing its no-Bird policy.