Zombie Bird scooters spotted (and impounded) in South Baltimore

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Photo courtesy of Mileah Kromer

After over a year of renting out its electric two-wheelers here in Baltimore, Santa Monica-based Bird was not among the quartet of firms picked for operating permits back in August. Its exclusion spurred an exodus of the sleek, black devices while others remained or launched their fleets.

So, Mileah Kromer was a bit surprised when she saw four of them sitting lined up on the sidewalk outside Riverside Park this morning while she was out walking her dog.

It’s not unheard of to see straggler Birds being ridden in Baltimore neighborhoods–apparent remnants from Bird’s 2018-19 tenure here–but the devices at the corner of Johnson and E. Randall streets were placed in a row, looking “open for business,” she says.

“They were clearly set up by someone,” says the Federal Hill resident and full-time professor and pollster. “They were very neatly organized.”

She didn’t see anyone attempting to rent one this morning, though. And it turns out they didn’t remain outside the park for long.

German Vigil, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation, says the city impounded all four scooters this morning “after receiving notification from the public.” (DOT was more boastful about its enforcement efforts on Twitter.)

“Our findings show that 4 vehicles were placed on the public right-of-way, but were not available for rent in the Bird app,” Vigil wrote in an email. “We will continue to investigate this matter to identify where the vehicles came from and if any further actions are needed.”

It would be odd to find one on the app anyway, since Bird is no longer allowed to operate here. Under city rules adopted this year, a company must receive a $70,000 operating permit to bring up to 1,000 scooters (plus 1,000 bicycles for companies Lime and Jump) to city streets. It’s unlawful for any firm to rent out scooters in Baltimore without a permit from DOT, under legislation enacted in May.

A Bird spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on whether someone affiliated with the company brought any scooters back.

But, judging by the duct tape visible on the front of each one in Kromer’s above photo, and a common-enough trend of people hacking the devices, local transit advocates speculate the devices Kromer found were leftovers that have been hacked and put out for rent by an “entrepreneur.”

Jed Weeks, policy director for Bikemore, says he’s seen schemes locally in which whoever is putting the hacked devices out “doesn’t let you use the scooter unless you pay them a buck or two.”

Kromer, who self-identifies as a “scooter enthusiast,” says she enjoys the number of the devices she sees around Federal Hill and Riverside. “Everybody looks so thrilled to be riding them, even in the morning on the way to work.”

She was just surprised to see these ones making a comeback after they’d all but disappeared. “Those are banned,” she thought to herself. “That’s like contraband now.”

Ethan McLeod
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