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Electric scooters ‘taxed to death’ by Raleigh’s rules, Bird says

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 will drop its new $2 fee on riders if Raleigh leaders agree to lift the city’s “burdensome regulations.”

The company made the statement in a letter to City Council member Stef Mendell after she criticized Bird for blaming the city for its fee.

“Bird is taking scooter users for a ride,” Mendell wrote on Facebook. “By charging an extra $2 per ride, not per day, Bird is clearly taking advantage of its customers.”

Bird added a $2 fee per ride — on top the $1 needed to unlock a scooter and the 15 cents per minute to ride — this week. The California-based company said it had to add the fee because of the city’s rules that outline when and where scooters can be used, cap the number of scooters to 500 per company and charge an annual fee of $300 per scooter.

Mendell and Mayor Nancy McFarlane have both criticized Bird for increasing the fee for riders. Bird said it sent the letter, in part, to refute “the fast math” used by city leaders.

“It is true that we asked supporters of affordable mobility options in Raleigh to reach out to their city council representatives regarding these fees — something that is their right and privilege as constituents, and something that is your duty as an elected official to receive,” said Servando Esparza, senior manager of Bird’s government partnerships, in the letter. “Residents throughout Raleigh support Bird and do not want to see our service taxed to death.”

Bird and electric scooter company Lime both arrived last year without communication or collaboration with the city. Both signed agreements with the city to follow its rules in December. Yet both companies also made adjustments to the insurance portion the agreement and must resubmit the agreements.

“Further, we want to make clear once again that the $300 fee per vehicle, as well as the exorbitant insurance requirements, are the highest and most burdensome in the nation,” Esparza said. “The average fee other cities are imposing per e-scooters is one tenth of what Raleigh is enforcing.”

McFarlane and others have pointed to Indianapolis as a city with higher fees than Raleigh. That city charges companies a $15,000 license fee and$1 per scooter per day, but has no no cap on the number of scooters in the city. Some other cities have banned the small vehicles entirely.

Mendell said she’s responded to all of the emails she’s received about the scooters.

“For Bird to say that the city has imposed a tax requiring them to charge $2 extra per ride is disingenuous,” she said Thursday. “I have very little tolerance for people who are trying to shade the truth and pull something over on people. I think it is absolutely reprehensible that they are trying to use their customers in this way.”

The letter from Bird states more than 600 people have sent emails to city leaders.

“Residents throughout Raleigh support Bird and do not want to see our service taxed to death,” Esparza said. “We hope you and the City Council will not ignore their pleas and work with us to establish a framework that is suitable for your community.”

Bird and Lime both arrived last year without communication or coordination with the city.

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. Reach her at 919-829-4807 or ajohnson@newsobserver.com.
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