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Raleigh mayor to scooter company: Bird’s new $2 fee ‘is not a tax’

Electric Bird scooters have arrived in downtown Raleigh, Cameron Village and Oberlin

Deas Fenderson of Bird scooters gives a quick tutorial on how to use the dockless, electric scooters in downtown Raleigh
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Deas Fenderson of Bird scooters gives a quick tutorial on how to use the dockless, electric scooters in downtown Raleigh

Electric scooter company Bird is only trying to increase profits and unfairly blaming the city for a new fee the company is charging riders, says Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.

She expressed her frustration during a City Council meeting Tuesday. Bird announced on Monday it was adding a $2 transportation fee — on top of the $1 needed to unlock the scooter plus 15 cents per minute to ride — because of increased city fees and regulations.

The company encouraged riders to email and tweet council members to “repeal this unreasonable fee.”

Lime, the scooter company that arrived after Bird, has not raised its prices but is also encouraging riders to contact city leaders about the rules.

“Since my computer is pinging consistently with emails, I do want to say something about the many emails that I have received about what Bird is putting out as Raleigh’s ‘transportation tax,’” McFarlane said.

“This is not a tax,” she said. “This is a rate increase for Bird that they are blaming on our requirement of $300 per scooter. To be clear, that fee was added to help defer cost of increased enforcement around safety and other issues.”

Raleigh’s rules outline when and where scooters can be parked and ridden. The city also added the $300 per scooter fee and limited each company to 500 scooters. Before the cap, Bird had more than 1,000 scooters throughout the city. The fee will generate up to $150,000 each from Bird and Lime, the other company with scooters in the city.

“If they [Bird] choose to add a $2 per ride to their rate, that is a business profit-making decision and has nothing to do with our requirements and certainly it is not a tax imposed by the city,” McFarlane said.

Bird and Lime have both called Raleigh’s fees one of the highest in the country. But McFarlane cited Nashville, Indianapolis and Portland as cities with higher fees.

Between five companies, Nashville has more than 2,000 scooters on the ground although two companies have not launched yet, said Bill Fields, Nashville’s transportation licensing director. McFarlane initially said companies in Nashville pay $500 per scooter per day, but later corrected herself to say Nashville has a $500 permit fee and a $35 per scooter annual fee. Raleigh’s application fee is $290.

Indianapolis has a $15,000 license fee for companies and charges $1 per scooter per day, according to the city’s website. Indianapolis has no cap on the number of scooters but that may change, said Sonya Seeder, in that city’s bureau of license and permit services.

While McFarlane said Portland charges $1 per scooter per day, the city actually charges 25 cents per ride, said Dylan Rivera, in Portland’s Bureau of Transportation. The city also had a $250 application fee and $5,000 permit feet. During the city’s 120-day pilot, three companies had more than 2,000 scooters that resulted in about 700,000 trips, he said. That would generate about $175,000 in revenue to the city of Portland.

“The whole point is our $300 scooter charge comes out to 16 cents per ride,” McFarlane said.

“They say their average ride is five rides per day,” the mayor explained. “So if you divide that out to 500 scooters that comes out to 16 cents per ride. So how are the justifying adding $2 per ride? Not to mention they are misleading everyone by calling it a transportation tax.”

The scooter companies arrived this summer without notice or coordination with the city of Raleigh.

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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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