By HALEY HARVEY
The beep of an electric scooter being activated can be heard as a student at the University of Oklahoma gets ready to make her morning commute to class. Feet grounded, hands gripping, she pushes off and scoots toward campus.
Amanda Gould, psychology senior, began the transition to riding Bird scooters with their arrival this school year. While many use the e-scooters for recreational purposes, Gould started to use them to get to class instead of walking from her Norman home.
Before “birding” around, Gould occasionally used the Cleveland Area Rapid Transit, or CART, a Norman service that provides bus transportation to residents and OU students. With recent cuts in funding, CART will stop running on Saturdays and also reduce route frequency to Alameda and Main streets starting Jan. 1. This can be a concern to those who have used the service to and from work or class — for people like Gould.
“When I took the CART, it was nice, but it can be a pain having to wait at the stops for the bus to come, and sometimes it can be pretty crowded,” Gould said. “With the canceling of some of the routes next year, I think more people will transition to riding these scooters whenever they can.”
With this threat soon approaching, the arrival of the e-scooters in Norman have come at the perfect time.
“I first started riding them for fun, and one day, I decided to ride one to class because I had a long walk to the Physical Sciences Center,” Gould said. “It’s by far the fastest and easiest way to get to class in my experience.”
Concerning price, Bird costs $0.15 per minute to ride in Norman. In contrast, students who use CART are charged a $2.50 per credit hour “transit fee” to their bursar, according to Taylor Johnson, planner and grant specialist for CART. The scooters may not be as wallet-friendly in the long run, but can provide a quicker alternative without the bus stop wait.
This new form of transportation, which has recently flown into Norman, has added a new way to travel on OU’s campus. Norman residents and OU students are using e-scooters that have landed in the city not only for recreation but also transportation since their arrival in mid-August.
Originating in Santa Monica, California, in 2017, Birds began appearing in different urban cities and college campuses around the nation this year. Norman is one of many college campuses where Bird has placed their scooters. Among others are UCLA, Ohio State and Texas.
“I ride the scooters for fun on days when it’s nice outside, and I’ve also used them to get to class when I’m running late but don’t want to drive or can’t get a ride,” said Hannah Phillips, supply chain junior. “I don’t have a parking permit because I live fairly close to campus so I usually walk, but I’ll ‘Bird’ on days when I’m in a rush because it’s so much faster.”
The scooters can get up to speeds near 20 mph and are to be ridden in bike lanes whenever possible.
Functioning by way of the Bird app, users can ride after logging their driver’s license information as well as credit card number. Riders are supposed to avoid sidewalks and not block other public pathways.
Use of the scooters instead of cars for short distances also helps the environment by lowering pollution emissions. Rachel Bankston, corporate communications member for Bird, said the company celebrated their first anniversary with over $10 million environmentally friendly rides since the company’s launch in September 2017.
But it hasn’t always been all fun and games when it comes to the scooters.
Norman city officials released a statement shortly after the arrival of the scooters that the company had until Wednesday, Sept. 12 to remove them from city limits or else would be subject to impoundment when it was discovered the company was operating without the correct permit and appropriate documentation. Despite the threat, the scooters remain.
Terry Floyd, development coordinator for the city of Norman, said Bird and other scooter companies, such as Lime, are in the process of finalizing a right-of-way agreement.
“It lays out some different parameters to accomplish what would probably ultimately be final as far as licensing, and allows them to operate in the meantime,” Floyd said.
Signatures from the company are being finalized, and once they are received in the next few weeks they will be signed by members of the Norman City Council for final approval.
Gould says the only problem she has encountered regarding the scooters is the lack of nearby scooters at times.
“Sometimes it can be hard to find one that’s parked near me,” Gould said, who lives southeast of Headington Hall. “They’re easy to find once you’re on the South Oval and near other classroom buildings, but they’re more scarce around my neighborhood.”
The scooters have also caused some concerns from other members of the community.
Sara Kaplan, retail marketing coordinator for the city, said she has heard mixed reviews about the scooters from residents.
“Some people absolutely love them, and some want them off their property,” Kaplan said.
Floyd also said some Norman residents are concerned about their right-of-way and riders leaving the scooters in areas that block walkways.
“A lot of it has to do with blocking our sidewalks for a lot of our disability community and scooters that are in the way of ramps or clearances for those who may be wheelchair-bound or sight impaired,” Floyd said. “It’s very crucial how those distances are maintained.”
With the riders having the choice to park anywhere, there is potential of property owners disliking their presence outside their business or home. Floyd said the company has been efficient in fixing problems and tending to complaints.
“My understanding is that in the event that a private property owner doesn’t like them there, the companies will try and respond within a couple of hours if they’re called to pick them up,” Floyd said. “If that doesn’t happen, private property owners can have them impounded, and I believe some have.”
Anyone can contact Bird officials through their website for any questions or issues they may have.
“But in my understanding the company tries to be pretty responsive if someone does not want them there,” Floyd said.
Despite concerns, some property owners like the presence of the scooters.
“Some businesses actually like them being near their business because it draws foot traffic,” Floyd said. “But to say there aren’t some who have complained or private property owners who have had them picked up, I’m sure there have been.”
One Norman store manager is an example of this.
“I don’t mind the scooters as a whole, but there have been problems with them blocking the sidewalks,” said Andrew Koszarek, manager of Al’s Bicycles on Main Street. “If I can’t park my bike on the sidewalk, I don’t think the scooters should be there either.”
Although a fun form of transportation and recreation right now, the future of the e-scooters is unknown.
Floyd said the city is trying to set this up as if it would be a long-term business and transportation model in the community. Whether it will continue into the future or is just a fad, he is unsure.
“We’re working right now with our councils of committees to develop what would be an annual license for them that will lay out additional parameters,” Floyd said. “I know these companies are doing very well now, so, we’re just preparing ourselves to have licensing if they will be here for a long time.”
As for Gould, she hopes the scooters will be around for a long time for students and others to use around the city.
“Bird has helped me out a lot with a better way to get to class,” Gould said. “So I’m sure they’ve been helpful in some way to other people to get them wherever they need to be in a cheap, fast manner that’s better for the environment.”