Orange County

Electric Bird scooters land in Chapel Hill, for now

FB - 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

The hotly debated electric scooters that have popped up across the country have now appeared on the streets of Chapel Hill, but it’s unclear how long they’ll stay.

The scooters’ arrival is part of the California-based company called Bird’s six-week “university pop-up tour.” It’s unclear if the scooters will be there for the full six weeks or stay after the tour.

“Whether it’s making it to a class on time, clocking in for work or simply getting to campus from the nearest public transit stop, Bird will help eliminate transportation gaps so students and faculty can focus on what really matters: education,” Travis VanderZanden, CEO and founder of Bird, said in a press release.

The scooters will be showing up at 150 colleges and universities across the country, and follow-up questions to Bird about how long they’ll be at Chapel Hill or if they’ll come to other North Carolina schools were not answered.

The scooters, which top out at 15 mph and are meant to be driven in the street, are new to the transit scene in North Carolina. Bird placed them in Charlotte earlier this summer and in Raleigh in July.

The scooters can be located and “unlocked” using Bird’s app on smartphones. It costs $1 to start each ride and 15 cents per minute to ride the scooters. According to Bird’s rules, you must wear a helmet, ride in the street, and park the scooter out of the public-right-of-way

A photo on Reddit appeared Wednesday night showing more than 100 Bird scooters set to be released throughout the town.

Chapel Hill town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko said the town was “trying to understand more” about the scooters and would share more information when it’s available.

Audrey Smith, one of UNC-Chapel Hill’s media relations managers, said the company did not coordinate their arrival with the university but that campus officials were aware of them.

The scooter company did not coordinate with Raleigh either — and Bird is known for arriving overnight with little warning, prompting some cities to ban the scooters. Raleigh leaders gave the company 60 days to comply with rules the city was still working to create.

At least two serious injuries have been reported in Raleigh since they arrived last month.

Davis Winkie, a doctorate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, used the scooters when he was researching his thesis in California because they were cheap and convenient.

He wrote on Twitter that “folks, the game has changed.”

“I am concerned about the way the town of Chapel Hill may react,” Winkie said in a follow-up interview. “I know some cities have reacted by saying, ‘No, bad, get out of here’ and confiscating the scooters. So I am worried about the town. I think they are a good transit option for the town. And for a university that prohibits freshmen from having a car on campus.”

Chapel Hill and the campus are walkable, but the scooters will help people who have to get far fast without waiting on a bus, he said.

The scooters are picked up each night sometime after 9 p.m. by contracted workers who recharge the scooters overnight and place them back on the streets before 7 a.m.

John Rees, an avid cyclist who serves on the Chapel Hill Planning Commission, said he’d been following the launch of scooter and bike-share programs in North Carolina and across the country.

To me, bike shares and scooter shares and all these unconventional ways of getting around, it’s my hope it calls attention to the gaps in our public infrastructure for people who are getting around who happen to not be driving a car,” he said.

A presentation outlining available bike-share options was made to the town’s Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board, but a final recommendation hasn’t been presented to Chapel Hill leaders.

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