PHOTO/DAVID ROBERT: Two e-scooter riders navigate between a van and a truck on Cheney Street as they approach Virginia Street on April 29.

Reno’s rental rate for e-scooters is among the highest tier of the dozens of U.S. cities where the Bird company operates — and even the 39 cents-per-minute rate for riders quoted by the City of Reno for weeks has already increased.

In an email to the RN&R May 1, Reno officials wrote “the actual price at the time of the launch was $0.42/minute. Bird’s pricing is set by Bird and based on market conditions such as demand. We apologize for the confusion this may have caused.” Bird company officials last week declined to talk about its pricing structure, Reno’s rates or answer any other questions submitted by the Reno News & Review. Instead, the firm, which operates in more than 400 markets worldwide, provided a short statement saying it is “inspired” by the Reno launch of the scooters in April.

The Bird app also requires riders to pay in $5 to $20 increments prior to riding, but a RN&R reporter who opted for the $5 payment found that her account shifted to the $20 option after the credit was used up. Unused balances stay on rider’s Bird accounts. Users who want refunds must file a request with the company. City officials noted that Bird has a lower-priced option for riders who meet income requirements.

Research shows that in markets where e-scooters have been available for a year or more, they have proven more popular than e-bikes. Some jurisdictions reported they do cut down on short car trips, as intended, but the rental vehicles also have resulted in injuries and are frequent targets of vandalism. Vendor’s maintenance and replacement costs are high, one reason prices have gone up in nearly all markets since the e-scooters started appearing in cities across the U.S. five years ago.

Bird has history of rapid and sometimes exponential price increases since 2019, according to a survey of news stories in the markets where the company holds franchises.

Pricing on the upswing

News stories found through internet searches indicated that Bird, which initially promoted a rate of 15 cents-per-minute, raised its prices in many of its markets in 2019, while lowering rates in a few other cities. A story in the Verge, for example, reported that Bird’s initial 15 cent per-minute fees increased to 25 cents in Austin, Texas. Today, the rate in Austin mirrors Reno’s previously announced rate, at 39 cents, which was 42 cents by the time the program debuted April 21. City officials initially said that Bird had to inform the city of price changes, but days later confirmed the increase and said company sets its own rates.

Bird doesn’t publish its prices for the individual cities it serves and declined to provide that information. The ridesharing website ridester.com published data on Bird’s prices for about 40 cities and put the company’s average at 15 cents per minute. Spot checks of some of those markets by the RN&R revealed the rate has increased in many of those cities.

The Verge story reported that in 2019 the 15 cent-per-minute rate increased to 29 cents in Baltimore, Md. and increased from 15 cents to 33 cents in Detroit. The cities that got price decreases to 10 cents-per-minute included Bloomington, Ind.; Charlottesville, Va.; and Columbia, Mo.

The company also structures its franchise deals differently depending on negotiations within each market. In Columbia, Mo. for example, the company last year paid the city and University of Missouri $10,000 each as an initial fee and agreed to pay $2 for each scooter in operation per day, split between the city and university. The City of Reno receives 25 cents per ride and $20 per scooter in registration fees, according to its three-year franchising contract with Bird. The company plans to have 1,000 scooters on Reno streets by mid-June.

Bird’s Community Pricing Program is available in Reno. That scheme offers a 50% discount to low-income riders, Pell grant recipients, select local nonprofit and community organizations, veterans and senior citizens. Those who qualify can sign up by downloading the Bird app, creating an account, and emailing proof of eligibility to access@bird.co.

‘Micromobility’ touted

The use of e-scooters and bicycles is a big part of Reno’s promotion of “micromobility” options. The e-scooters are part of Reno’s environmental sustainability effort, aimed at saving energy and reducing vehicle emissions by providing transportation options for residents.

A 2019 report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials concluded that shared bike and scooter programs were successful in replacing motor vehicles for short trips. That year, according to the report, people took 136 million trips on shared bikes and scooters, a 60% increase from 2018.

PHOTO/DAVID ROBERT: Midtown ride.

Advocates of micromobility are glad to see the e-scooters in Reno. Kyril Plaskon, president of the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance said the program “is a learning experience all the way around. There is no doubt that scooters increase spending and fun while reducing pollution and traffic. It puts the ‘big’ back in our little city, showing that we can do what other cities are doing.”

Plaskon, in an email to the RN&R, said the scooters also “increase awareness about our need to follow federal and local standards with micromodal infrastructure.”

Advocates of eco-friendly, alternative transportation options have long supported protected bike lanes and better connections among those routes so that riders won’t have to travel in the midst of vehicular traffic. Some of the city’s bike lanes, one rider said, end suddenly and that’s like delivering riders into “a pit of alligators.”

Successes in Seattle

A study in Seattle, where four other e-scooter rental companies have been active for more than 18 months, indicated that about one in five users ride the scooters to connect with public transit. That’s the kind of synergy Reno officials are hoping for in the Biggest Little City.

The study noted that during that city’s pilot program, more than 260,000 unique riders took more than 1.4 million trips. The authors wrote that 54% of riders said they would have taken a taxi or ride-hail service or used a personal vehicle to make their last scooter trip.

But the Seattle report and another study of the scooter rental industry by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center also underline problems that always crop up in the wake of e-scooter programs. They include accidents with motor vehicles, safety issues with some types of scooters, damage to private property and vandalism.

Scooters debut in Reno

The scooters began hitting Reno streets in the downtown and Midtown districts on April 21. More machines will be deployed over the next several weeks.

The Reno rollout has been popular. Officials reported that between April 21-28, the first week of operation, 2,480 new riders downloaded the app and took a spin. The service logged 6,153 rides traveling a total distance of 11,045 miles.

Bird’s contract was approved four years after Reno partnered with Lime Bikes. Those e-bicycles were vandalized at the rate of about nine per week, according to city officials. Some wound up in the Truckee River or on top of buildings. The available studies of e-scooter use and news stories from across the nation show that vandalism of the machines became a major problem soon after the scooters began appearing in U.S. cities in 2017.

In Oakland, e-scooters were tossed into trash cans, submerged in a lake and hung from trees.  The Los Angeles Times reported in 2018 that rental scooters had been crammed into toilets, tossed off balconies and set on fire. “They’ve even been adorned with dangling bags of dog droppings,” the paper reported.

PHOTO/DAVID ROBERT: A rider maneuvers between a van and a truck on Cheney Street in MIdtown Reno.

Safety a major concern

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center report noted that most cities lack a standardized reporting system for e-scooter accidents or for collecting crash and injury data. The Seattle Department of Transportation study used police reports to get a handle on some of those accidents. The records revealed that the city logged 17 collisions involving scooters between October 2020 and September 30, 2021, but because there is no standardized reporting of scooter accidents and injuries, study authors felt such incidences are under-reported.

Of the 17 crashes, nearly all occurred between a scooter and a vehicle. Five of those cases involved  “serious” injuries, the report noted, including one fatality. In the city’s survey of about 5,200 scooter users, 11% (570 respondents) reported some type of injury from rides and around one-in-five said they sought medical help. The report listed injuries including road rash, lacerations requiring stitches, broken bones and one concussion. Riders cited poor weather and  road conditions including broken/raised pavement and potholes as causes of the crashes, as well as interactions with other drivers.

Although e-scooter companies recommend that riders wear helmets, the Seattle survey – which authors noted is not a scientifically-representative sample – found that 70% of respondents don’t wear head protection.

The study reported that more than 1.4 million trips were taken by 260,000 riders during Seattle’s pilot program, with the initial fleet size growing from 1,500 scooters to 5,000 offered by four companies. Bird doesn’t operate in Seattle, where Lime, Link, Wheels and Spin deploy scooters.

Connecting to mass transit

The Seattle report revealed that 43% of respondents used scooters for recreational purposes like going to the park or to meet friends; 22% used scooters for commuting; 15% used scooters for going to restaurants; 12% used scooters for running errands or going to medical appointments; and 6% used scooters to go shopping.

About one-fifth of those surveyed reported that they used scooters to connect to mass transit and more than half said they ”would have used a personal vehicle or taxi if the scooters weren’t available.”  The average trip lasted 15 minutes, traveled 1.4 miles and cost $6.63, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation.

PHOTO/KATELYN WELSH: Ray Smith and his daughter, Savanah, share a ride in downtown Reno.

Most trips took place in Seattle’s downtown district. About 22% of respondents reported that they navigated some trips on sidewalks, where scooter use is discouraged when a bike lane is available. In Reno, scooter riders also are supposed to use bike lanes, but an RN&R reporter found that many riders take to the sidewalks because they don’t feel that the bike lanes are a safe option, particularly in Midtown, where bikes, scooters and motor vehicles share a common lane.

The survey also concluded that at the start of the Seattle pilot program, about 20% of scooters were obstructing sidewalks, which fell to about 8% within a year.

Of the survey respondents, about 30% reported earning less than $50,000 annually and 24% earned between $50,000 and $99,999. About 14% of respondents said they made less than $25,000 annually and 46% made more than $100,000.

Join the Conversation

5 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for the line, death defying bike lanes, what a joke they are!!!

  2. Haven’t they learned their lesson yet, guess not. See you in the river, Scooter!!!

  3. I’m 75 and I have ridden Bird scooters 11 times in the past week. I think they’re a godsend to avoid finding something to which to lock your bicycle or circling endlessly to find scarce vehicle parking spaces. What a great addition to Reno!

  4. Just what we needed added into the ant hill of activity during commutes. Single-lane traffic jams, the steady increase of residents from the west, Tesla, and now people fresh from the dispensaries riding these under the influence. What could possibly go wrong?

  5. I’m wondering if Reno locals aren’t affected by tourism as far as pricing goes. Tourists come to town with discretionary money because they’re on vacation. So, we locals get priced at a level higher than it would be without tourist inclusion. I find the 1,000 scooters on our streets by mid-June to be a little mind-blowing.

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