A few months back, Sinan, a 25-year-old artist and bike messenger in Atlanta, saw a Bird scooter at a train station in the city. “I was feeling some sort of way, and there's a balcony, so I picked it up and dropped the Bird off it.”
Sinan, who has asked that I not include his last name for fear of legal repercussions, told me he did this because “they're just counterproductive to public transit, and they’re not being used for the right reasons by the right people.”
“I mean you get these douchebags who show up at the skatepark with these Birds,” he added. The video now lives on the Instagram page of Bird Graveyard, an account that shares images and videos of neglected, destroyed, drowned and even immolated dockless rental scooters.
If you don’t live in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, Atlanta or the handful of other cities where Birds dot the streets, you might be unfamiliar with the scooters. Founded in 2017 by Travis VanderZanden, a former executive at Lyft and Uber, the electric Bird scooters can be located and unlocked with the company app. Once the user is on the move, they’re charged 15 cents per minute to ride. Unlike rideshare bikes, there are no docking stations, so a Bird can be discarded as soon as the rider has reached their destination. (Full disclosure: Bird subleases their Los Angeles office space from VICE.)
It’s been a big success out West. At the end of June, Bird Rides Inc. was reportedly valued at $2 billion. According to Bird, by February of this year, 50,000 people had taken 250,000 rides on their scooters in Santa Monica. Now other scooter companies have followed their lead, with Spin and the Uber-backed LimeBike sharing space on the streets with Bird.
The popularity is arguably a reflection of Bird’s, quite frankly, pretty good business idea. The scooters are an ostensibly good concept: They could alleviate traffic, cut down on pollution and—in a city like LA, where the skeletal public transport system is considerably underused—serve as a “last mile” option to cover the non-walkable distance between the nearest train station and your office/apartment/hot yoga class.
Yet as is often the case with tech companies, massive financial clout and an ostensibly good idea doesn’t equate to people not thinking your product or app or child-size submarine isn’t a giant pile of unwelcome garbage. And in cities where the scooter companies operate—many of which have faced social and economic shifts thanks to the relentless growth of tech corporations—people like Sinan are turning against the scooters.
Since its founding in June, Bird Graveyard has displayed user submitted photos and videos of (mostly Bird) scooters in trash cans, on fire, in tangled piles, covered in shit, and rusting at the bottom of the Venice Canals.
I reached out to the admins of the account to request an interview, but they would only answer questions via email, and wouldn’t give me their names due to legal concerns.
“At what point can somebody abandon property and expect it to be respected by the public?” they said by email, referring to the scooter company’s habit of launching their product in cities without fully consulting city officials first—a practice that saw Bird pulled from the streets of Louisville within 36 hours of showing up. “[Their business] depends on the community doing free labor for them. Even if that labor is extremely insignificant, like moving scooters from your yard.”
In a recent VICE News feature on the legal complexities of dockless scooters, Euwyn Poon, Co-Founder of Spin, described the company’s strategy of launching without consulting city officials as “innovating on the regulatory side.”
I reached out to Bird to see if they could enlighten us on the legal ramifications of destroying a product that has been, if not abandoned, then left-without-warning by its owner, and a Bird spokesperson replied with this comment:
"Vandalism of all types of property is a problem that should not be tolerated by communities or local law enforcement. We do not support the vandalism or destruction of any property and are disappointed when it takes place. Nor do we support the encouragement, celebration or normalization of this behavior. Bird encourages people in communities to report incidents of vandalism to Birds, and irresponsible behavior on Birds, to local authorities and to the company. We investigate all reports directed to Bird and take appropriate measures, including removing people from the Bird platform."
This emphasis on community responsibility was reiterated via email by Mary Caroline Pruitt, Lime Spokeswoman. “Our big picture for shared scooters and bikes is to create a culture, together with the community, where people view scooter and bike sharing as their own, and by creating that culture, we believe that responsible parking and respectful use will become a natural habit,” she wrote.
As evidenced by the fact that many scooters have been dumped, as trash, into oceans and waterways, the perceived burden Bird foists on communities isn't the only reason people submit to Bird Graveyard.
“Smashing scooters is just funny,” the account admins wrote to me. “It’s amusing when people come to the page and do not get why it’s funny. If you can’t laugh at a rideshare scooter being lit on fire at a house party, that’s a problem with you. There’s nothing in the Constitution that says we all have to respect and love brands.”
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