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User Reporting Appears to Alleviate Scooter Parking Issues

To reduce clutter and carelessness with e-scooters, companies are offering ways for users to report improperly parked or damaged scooters. Now, one company has released metrics showing the success of their initiative.

E-scooters cluttering walkways, parks and other high-traffic areas have become a common site in many cities, and officials are aware of the problem. Some have taken steps to address it by requiring data from scooter companies, passing ordinances, or geofencing to deactivate scooters when they move into the wrong space.

Mobility companies have also moved to crowdsource parking enforcement by giving people ways to report wayward vehicles. One example, an app feature from Bird called “Community Mode,” is reporting some success after five months in effect.

Launched in November 2018, Community Mode sends a user’s feedback about an improperly parked or damaged scooter directly to Bird, which then sends local staff to move the scooter. If the equipment is reported damaged or non-functional, Bird automatically removes it from the app’s map of available vehicles and makes it unrideable in the app. The company also follows up with the person who made the report via email once the issue has been resolved.

In an email, communications manager Debbie Bass said Community Mode averaged more than 700 reports per day during the past five months, half of which came from people who don’t use the scooters but keep the app for reporting purposes. Bird has scooters in more than 100 cities worldwide.

In an emailed statement, Bird's GovTech Product Manager Ben Handzo said Community Mode has improved Bird’s operations at the local level.

“Over the last several months, we’ve heard from nearly 70,000 members of the Bird community through these reports, and as a result, Birds in need of repair are now removed from neighborhoods four times faster,” the statement said.

The impact of Community Mode is difficult to quantify in detail, as not all cities keep a precise count of complaints. Transportation Planning Manager Diana Chang of Culver City, Calif., said the city received very few complaints before Bird implemented the feature, so they didn’t know if it made a difference.

Santa Monica, Calif., Councilman Ted Winterer attested in an emailed statement that he had personally used Community Mode and found Bird “very responsive.” But in another emailed statement, Santa Monica spokeswoman Constance Farrell said while scooter parking was an issue in the past, she had no information on the impact of Community Mode. She also said it’s not the only feature of its kind.

“Community Mode is the name of the reporting tool Bird has that other operators also have,” the statement read. “This is something our administrative regulations for the pilot program that started in September 2018 encourage operators to have available.”

Besides Bird, Santa Monica’s pilot program for scooters involves three other companies — Lime, Jump (Uber) and Lyft — and a set of regulations to address parking, public right-of-way and other challenges for pedestrians and shared-mobility devices to coexist. Farrell told Government Technology that in addition to educating the public, some of these administrative regulations also asked scooter companies to play a role. She said Santa Monica also had success with docking drop zones.

“They’re essentially just a stencil on the sidewalk or in a parking space that encourage smart organization of the shared-mobility spaces,” she said. “We have seen improvement. Users can park the devices anywhere, but we have seen that when you do offer the locations, and because there’s more than 100 of them throughout the city and they’re very visible, we find that people do want to be good stewards and put the devices in a designated area.”

Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.