Uber is having a crazy year and, more recently, a crazy February – as the ride-hailing giant settled with driverless car tech rival Waymo over trade secret violations to the tune of $245 million.
And it appears that drama will continue to follow those associated with Uber.
A former executive may have left the company, but his new venture is already amassing both money and controversy.
Bird, the startup that’s bringing electric scooter rentals to major cities, is helmed by Travis VanderZanden, a former executive of both Lyft and Uber, and is staffed by loads of former employees of both ride-sharing companies.
Bird recently grabbed $15 million in venture capital to expand its footprint, but the company is already said to be causing “chaos” in Santa Monica - one of its testing grounds for a business model that lets riders book a short-term rental scooter via an app.
The scooters are dockless, meaning they start their day scattered about the city on private property. At the end of the day, they are collected by Bird and taken in for recharging and maintenance.
It’s what happens in between that has the mayor of Santa Monica giving the company the side eye – it seems that the benefit of being able to dump a Bird scooter basically anywhere when you’re done with it means scooters are littering the sidewalk and causing problems for folks with limited mobility – those in wheelchairs, for example – to get around them.
The city is actually so ticked that they’ve filed a criminal complaint against Bird for not obtaining a vendor permit, something Bird asserts applies to food vendors.
But the problem is, there aren’t really existing regulations for this kind of business because a dockless electric scooter rental program never existed before, and disruptive technology sometimes means paving a path and figuring out the finer points along the way.
One of the other finer points? Who is responsible for the fact that most Bird riders are skirting certain California regulations, such as those requiring electric scooter riders to be at least 16, to wear a helmet, and to not use them on sidewalks?
One thing’s for certain: keep an eye on Bird. It’s either the next big thing, or the next big thing… to be regulated out of existence.