Company plans to bring scooters to downtown

Evanston Community Development Director Rocco O’Neill speaks during last week’s Evanston City Council meeting. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — The idea of a company offering electric scooters in Evanston was the topic of discussion at the Evanston City Council work session on Tuesday, Jan. 26. A virtual meeting was held with Bird representative Michael Covato. He said Bird is a “micromobility” company that is nationally based in Santa Monica, California, with main headquarters in Amsterdam.

“We provide a low-cost system of electric scooters going from point A to point B with the grid structure focusing on the downtown area to stimulate the local economy,” Covato said. “We work with a local partner who removes the scooters at night to recharge them and puts them out again each day.”

Covato said they predict high usage in Evanston, partly because they have the scooters in a Virginia town that is half the size of Evanston and the company has seen significant use there.  The scooters are meant to be used on streets, not sidewalks, and incident rates have been minimal, similar to bicycle accidents.

The company recommends helmet use, but it is not required. The scooters’ average rate of speed is between 6 and 15 mph. When going down a hill, the speed can be reduced if needed.  There is an automatic brake but it can also be self-administered. The weight limit for riders is a little over 275 pounds, and riders should be at least 13 years of age.

Covato said the average fee ranges between $5 and $7 a trip, and each scooter has equipment attached so the rider can pay with a credit card. They also can have GPS on each scooter. 

“We plan on bringing 50 to 75 scooters to Evanston,” Covato said, “and we are very optimistic about the usage. We just need the support of the council, and we will obtain a business license. We plan to start in April if the weather allows.”

Founded in September 2017 by Travis VanderZanden, formerly of the ride-share company Uber, Bird partners with cities across the globe to develop programs that maximize the positive impact of micromobility, Covato said. In 2020, the company reported 600 employees.  According to its website, every Bird scooter on the road results in 1,500 pounds of avoided carbon emission each year. Each scooter lasts over 18 months on the road, he added.

According to Forbes, Bird’s valuation is at $2 billion, and their market focus is on the U.S. and Europe, but future plans are to expand into Canada, New Zealand and Latin America.

“This is an intriguing prospect,” Mayor Kent Williams said. “We are open to new private businesses and this sounds fun and exciting. Good luck to you.”

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