Hometown Rift? Bird Says It’s ‘Disappointed’ To Be Kicked Out of Santa Monica but Hints at Appeal

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

Hometown Rift? Bird Says It’s ‘Disappointed’ To Be Kicked Out of Santa Monica but Hints at Appeal

Four years ago, Bird Rides Inc. boldly began parking its first-generation e-scooters on the sidewalks of Santa Monica even though it lacked the proper permits.

What started as a novelty has now become a $800-billion worldwide business, with the devices now ubiquitous throughout the world. The scooters also became one of the most visible symbols of Santa Monica's booming and carefree tech scene, with top VCs scootering into the office with the ocean air blowing through their hair.

But as Bird prepares to go public via a blank check acquisition, the company is facing the embarrassment of being kicked out of its hometown this summer just as the tattered micromobility business recovers from pandemic lockdowns.

With a population of less than 100,000 residents, Santa Monica is not a financially important market for Bird. But the clashes it has had with city regulators are emblematic of what it has encountered worldwide after expanding to more than 150 cities.

Even though Santa Monica's transportation department was authorized by the City Council to permit four scooter operators, it chose just three – Spin, Veo and Lyft – for the next phase of its shared mobility pilot program, which lasts from July 1 to March 30, 2023. Bird placed fourth.

Bird declined to make anyone available for an interview but in a statement sent to dot.LA, it indicated it plans to appeal the decision.

"We are disappointed by the current recommendation for the next phase of the Santa Monica Micromobility Program and look forward to taking the opportunity to further demonstrate Bird's commitment to the city during the comments and objections process," the company said.

Bird has not filed an appeal as of Monday but has until May 26 to do so, according to Constance Farrell, a spokeswoman for the city.

Santa Monica transportation staff made their selection based on 10 different criteria. Bird was dinged for affordability, customer service, durability, safety and maintenance/ operations.

It performed well in the local preference category, though Bird received the same ranking as Lyft, which is based in San Francisco.

Bird also originally did not make it into the city's first e-scooter pilot in 2018 but was later added back in because of its hometown presence, according to the Santa Monica Daily Press, which was first to report Bird's pending removal.

Though Bird is still based in Santa Monica, its presence has been greatly diminished over the past year. It laid off half of its employees there last year as the pandemic ground worldwide ridership to a halt and put its airy headquarters up for sublease in October.

Bird has had a rocky relationship with Santa Monica, ever since deploying its scooters there in 2017, before it received the city's permission.

"We felt we were in a gray area," Bird founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden said at the time.

The city disagreed and sued, contending e-scooters were endangering local residents and visitors. Bird signed a plea agreement with Santa Monica in 2018 and paid $300,000 in fines. It also agreed to bring down maximum speeds from 21mph to 15mph.

"With this agreement, Bird and VanderZanden acknowledge that they failed to comply with the City of Santa Monica's business licensing requirements which are designed to protect the safety of the public," Deputy City Attorney Eda Suh said in a statement announcing the settlement.

As part of going public, Bird revealed last week it has been involved in more than a hundred lawsuits involving "brain injuries, internal injuries, and death," many of which are still pending.


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March Capital Raises $650 Million Fund to Invest in AI Startups
March Capital founder Jamie Montgomery. Illustration by Dilara Mundy.

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This Week in ‘Raises’: Saviynt Lands $205M, Pagos Secures $34M
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