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Electric Scooters Go Live in Birmingham, Ala., But Are They Legal?

The scooters started popping up in the city this week, but officials say no permits have been issued.

(TNS) — The controversial Bird electric scooters, which have become a national phenomenon, have landed in Birmingham, Ala.

The scooters started popping up in the Birmingham area on Tuesday.

Earlier this year, the dockless, rideshare electric scooters started to appear overnight at cities across the country.

The strategy of many of these rideshare companies is to deploy their scooters into a city without seeking the proper permits. The companies ask for permission later.

Birmingham City Councilor Darrell O'Quinn, who chairs the council's transit committee, said Bird doesn't have a permit or business license to operate.

"We need to move forward with legislation to get a handle on this," he said during Tuesday's city council meeting.

Bird also launched illegally in Auburn on Tuesday and in Tuscaloosa last week.

Electric scooter ridesharing popped up in cities like San Francisco, Santa Monica and St. Louis and 63 other cities this year.

There have been numerous news reports of the scooters littering city sidewalks and being involved in accidents.

Rick Journey, director of communications for the Birmingham Mayor's Office, said the city received an email from Bird on Tuesday morning notifying the city of its presence.

"We are welcoming of the many changes that are taking place right now with transportation in our country," he said. "In Birmingham, we were not aware of Bird's plans to roll out their scooter system until today. Neither has the company secured a business license to operate in the city. We're reaching out to them to learn more. Additionally, we're in contact with other peer cities to study examples of how local governments can best work with these new systems."

Most of the scooters are currently located in Homewood, the UAB area and the Highland Park neighborhood of Birmingham, according to the Bird app.

Homewood City Councilor Jennifer Andress said Bird doesn't have a business license to operate in the city. "This is so new we need to look at what we have on the books to regulate this," she said.

O'Quinn's committee has heard presentations from such rideshare scooter companies as LimeBike, but the council hasn't given approval for any scooter company to operate in the city.

When emailed for comment on Tuesday, Bird didn't answer specific questions on its business strategy and why it located in Birmingham. Instead, was emailed a fact sheet on Bird and how it operates.

Bird scooters can be rented through its smart phone app, according to Bird. The app allows users to locate and unlock a scooter. The app also shares safety tips for riders.

A ride costs an initial $1 plus a charge of 15 cents per minute. Bird scooters are calibrated to run at a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour. A charge lasts for about 15 miles.

Each night a Bird contractor, called a charger, picks up the scooters and takes them home to be charged, according to Bird. The scooters are placed back in their "nests," a pre-approved spot, by 7 a.m. the next morning.

According to Bird, the company works to make sure users are riding safely by: Requiring riders upload a driver's license and confirm they are older than 18

Requiring all riders to consent to a safety agreement.

Showing riders an in-app tutorial on how to safely ride the scooters.

Posting safety instructions on each scooter.

Though it is currently operating illegally in Birmingham, Bird contends that it works closely with the cities where it operates. The company said scooters are located in front of businesses where scooters are wanted.

According to Bird, the company offers to remit $1 per vehicle per day to cities where they operate. The money is intended to be used to build more bike lanes, promote safe riding, and maintain our shared infrastructure.

©2018 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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