An ex-Uber employee raised over $100 million to fill the streets of San Francisco with scooters that people can rent and toss anywhere — here’s how they work

Bird electric scooters are taking over San Francisco.

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Bird electric scooters are taking over San Francisco.
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Bird app screenshot and Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider

Bird, an electric-scooter-sharing company, has raised $115 million (including $100 million in March) to cover the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco with motorized vehicles that are like Razor scooters for grown-ups.

People can reserve a local scooter from a smartphone app, ride for a small fee, and leave the scooter anywhere at the end of a journey. The result is a citywide littering of scooters.

Led by a former Uber and Lyft executive, Bird raised over $100 million in funding this year to expand across the US. But the company’s rise to success hasn’t been without speed bumps. This week, Bird issued a press release claiming city officials in San Francisco were trying to shut it down. San Francisco City Supervisor Aaron Peskin denied the claim to Business Insider.

I pass a dozen electric scooters on the streets of San Francisco on my daily commute, so I recently rented an electric scooter from Bird to try it myself.

Here’s what it was like to rent and try the Bird electric scooter:


The Bird has landed in San Francisco — and people have very mixed feelings about it.

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Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
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Universal Pictures

“A few weeks ago, I had not noticed any electric scooters in SF. Now you can’t exit a building without tripping over one,” M.G. Siegler, a general partner at Google Ventures, tweeted.

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Bird

It’s true. Three startups — Bird, Lime, Spin — rolled out hundreds of motorized scooter rentals in downtown San Francisco in the span of a few weeks. They’re everywhere.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Some people have commended the scooter startups for giving people a cheap, easy way to get around while reducing their reliance on cars and easing congestion on public transit.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Others are annoyed. The proliferation of scooters has created crowding on city sidewalks, because the vehicles don’t use docking stations like some electric-bike-sharing startups.


I wasn’t sure where I stood on the issue, so I decided to give Bird a whirl.

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Universal Pictures

I left my office building in downtown San Francisco and found three scooters (all “Birds”) located just outside the entrance.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Honestly, this thing just looks fun to ride. It’s a stand-up vehicle like the Razor scooter that I cruised around on as a kid. But the Bird scooter is tricked out with a motor and a battery.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

It reaches speeds up to 15 mph. By comparison, Uber’s JUMP bikes top out at 19 mph.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

After downloading the app and creating a login, a map appeared showing me nearby Birds. The closer I zoomed in, the more detail I could make out — like each scooter’s battery charge.

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Bird app screenshot

When you find a Bird near you, you tap the button to unlock it. The app prompts you to snap a photo of the scooter’s QR code and (on your first rental) scan your driver’s license.

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Bird app screenshot

Renting a Bird costs $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute of use. I was ready to ride!

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Notice the Allbirds shoes. This is about as “San Francisco” as it gets, people.
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Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider

To start the scooter, you kick off three times, then push the throttle button with your thumb.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

It went a little something like this.


You squeeze with the right hand to accelerate and brake with the left.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The scooter responded to the lightest touch. There were a few lurches in the beginning as I learned how to handle the acceleration, and I was glad to be in an alley away from traffic.

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Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider

Almost immediately, I understood the appeal of Bird. It was fast, fun, and easy to maneuver, though I didn’t feel comfortable turning corners. Instead, I applied the brake and pedaled.

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Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider

In a construction area with uneven pavement and loose gravel, the Bird handled the road like it was skating on ice. The extra-wide tires provided a smooth, comfortable ride.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The footboard was plenty wide for my feet, but I imagine it would be a tighter fit for men.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The footboard had some reminders: State law requires scooter riders to wear a helmet. You must be over the age of 18, have a valid driver’s license, and ride one person at a time.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Seeing as I didn’t have a helmet, I stayed in my comfort zone: The alley. Bird has been giving away free helmets to active riders since February, and I placed an order after my ride.

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Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider

The helmet actually costs $1 to cover the cost of shipping.


To end the ride, I opened the app and tapped the button to lock the scooter. The app showed me a ride time of 13 minutes and a cost of $2.95 — a fraction of what my typical Uber ride costs.

Bird electric scooters are taking over San Francisco.

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Bird app screenshot and Kaylee Fagan/Business Insider

I could see myself using Bird or another electric scooter-sharing company to reach parts of the city where there’s heavy traffic, so I could cruise past ride-share cars in the bike lane.


Do I still find these scooters everywhere to be slightly annoying? Yes. I would like to see the city create regulations that dictate where the scooters can be left and how many are allowed.

To help prevent littering, Bird has made a pledge to pick up all its vehicles nightly. It sends a team of employees and independent contractors called “chargers” to retrieve the scooters, charge them, and deploy the next day in areas where Bird predicts they will be used.


Onward!

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Bird

What do you think about the electric scooters taking over San Francisco? Let me know your thoughts by shooting me an email at mrobinson@businessinsider.com.