With winter almost here, the fad of “Birding” around Oxford could possibly be flying south for the winter.
The safety concerns that come along with riding the Bird electric scooters (and their recently recalled competitors, Lime scooters) are aggravated by ice and snow.
Since Birds arrived in Oxford in early September, they caused a frenzy among Oxford residents and students. If you walk or drive down the streets of Uptown, there’s a good chance you will pass a number of people riding Birds or Limes.
But is the fad fading?
“What we’ve noticed is a remarkable decline in the population. We had the conversation about Limes (being recalled), but there’s a remarkable decrease in Birds. I don’t know if they have reduced the number because of the weather,” said Oxford Police Lt. Lara Fening.
The scooters are made by different manufacturers and Lime issued a worldwide recall of its scooters after reports that they tended to fall apart after hard use.
Lime is inspecting and investigating them, and then plans on replacing them with an updated model, said Oxford Economic Development Director Alan Kyger.
“We had a meeting in October with Bird and Lime representatives, and both Bird and Lime were very pleased with the ridership they had in Oxford,” said Kyger.
The problems with the Birds and the Limes could be chalked up to user error, and with the weather changing, the scooter riders will need to take extra caution in making sure they are riding safely.
“They assume, just like a lot of pedestrians, that we, the cars can stop on a dime. That may not work in more precarious weather patterns like this,” said Fening. “I don’t even know that the scooters are going to be in town when the weather is going to be super bad, and plus students are going to be out of town here pretty soon.”
The scooter companies put the scooters out at various locations around town between 6 and 7 a.m. each morning. Users who have downloaded a company’s free app, then rent the scooters by swiping their phone over a scanner on the scooter. They are charged by the minute for the time they ride. When they are finished riding, they are supposed to park the scooters in an appropriate place. On Miami’s campus that means in a bicycle rack. In town, it means someplace that does not block a sidewalk or street.
Riders can locate scooters with a map on their phones, as each shows up as a dot on a map of the service area. Bird and Lime employees then collect the scooters about 9 p.m. so they can be recharged overnight.
When Bird first started operating in Oxford earlier this fall, its representative said the scooters would not be put out in icy or snowy weather. How much ice or snow was not specified.
Both companies have safety rules printed on the scooters. Riders must follow all traffic rules, just like any other vehicle, and wearing helmets is strongly advised. The scooters can travel up to 15 mph.
Riders around Oxford are seldom seen wearing helmets, but so far there have not been any serious scooter accidents reported, Fening said.
Fening said Bird has been getting better about where they put the scooters in town at the beginning of each day, using designated parking spot “nests” the city has set aside for the scooters rather than leaving them blocking sidewalks.