UGA and Bird are not any closer to negotiating a solution for the use of the electric scooters on campus as of Sept. 11, according to UGA Division of Marketing and Communication Public Relations Manager, Rebecca Beeler.
“Nothing has changed regarding the status of scooters on campus. Those individuals who choose to use scooters are required to follow all pertinent traffic laws and rules of the road and are encouraged to exercise extreme care,” Beeler replied in an email to our questions.
Since Aug. 31, the University of Georgia Police Department began enforcing Georgia Law for riding Bird scooters on sidewalks. An email from Archnews sent to all UGA students, faculty and staff on Aug. 30, 2018 added that individuals who violate traffic code by violating the law could be fined $185, plus court fees. Archnews is the official email list that provides information from UGA administration.
Not long after students returned to campus for the fall semester, a new way to commute to class was introduced to Athens: Bird scooters. However, safety issues surrounding the electric scooters caused pushback from the university.
Why It’s Newsworthy: Although Bird scooters have provided a new form of transportation to campus, they have been faced with pushback from the university. UGA police has issued tickets for improper Bird scooter use, and scooters parked on campus have been impounded.
“They started showing up when we got here for school,” said Tyler Smith, a fourth year forestry major from Swainsboro, Georgia.
The email from Archnews included a video compilation of hazardous Bird scooter use on campus, courtesy of UGA bus camera footage.
“For the University of Georgia, the primary concern with increased scooter traffic is safety—safety for those riding the scooters and for bystanders who might be hit by them or whose path might be impeded by an abandoned scooter,” reads the email from Archnews.
Prior to the email from Archnews, UGA Parking Services had already begun removing Bird Scooters that were parked on campus.
“Consistent with Transportation and Parking Services rules and regulations, any vehicle, including motorcycles and scooters, parked in an illegal or unsafe manner at any time is prohibited and is subject to violations and removal. Scooters left on sidewalks, grass, stairwells, decks or similar situations are also subject to violations and removal,” reads the University’s statement regarding Bird scooters, provided by Beeler.
Bird responded to the ban by sending an email to users asking them to send an email to UGA’s Parking and Transportation Services in support of Bird.
“With parking permits ranging from $200-480 each semester, UGA students, faculty and staff deserve a low-cost alternative to get to and from campus everyday,” said the email from Bird.
The startup applies the concept of ride-sharing to electric scooters. Users can find the scooters using the map located in the Bird app. It costs $1 to unlock the scooters and 20 centers per minute to ride a Bird. After a ride, users park their scooters, so that the next rider can find them.
According to UGA student, Jackson Smith, Bird requests that their riders do not use the scooters on the sidewalks and when finished they are parked out of the way of pedestrians.
During the first week of class, Bird brought the electric scooters to Athens as a part of their University Pop-Up Tour. Smith expressed skepticism as to whether these scooters are a sustainable form of commuting to campus.
He said he rides his bike to class every day, and that the cost of using the Bird scooters will add up to the cost of a bike over time.
“Say it takes you 10 minutes to get to class, that’s roughly $2 a day. Say you go to school for 100 days- that’s $200. So the cost of really good bike is about the same,” he said.
Smith said that there are also safety concerns to consider when riding a Bird. According to Bird’s website, the riders should use the scooters in the bike lane, and not on the sidewalk.
“I think they’re considerably more dangerous than bikes. People driving cars aren’t used to them yet. They’re hard to see,” he said.
Beeler confirmed that UGA has been impounding scooters if they are parked inappropriately or without permits.
When asked about the impounded scooters, the university responded, “Fines will be applied based on violations and scooters will be released when all violations have been paid in full.”
As of Sept. 17, the University of Georgia police department has written three citations for improper Bird scooter use.
University of Georgia Terry College of Business lecturer Elizabeth Brutz believes the problem may also lie in the fact that the city and campus have never faced a company like Bird.
Bird Company obtained a proper license to conduct business in Athens-Clarke County, according to Brutz, but that license may not address are the necessary concerns.
“Athens-Clarke County has never implemented or pre-contemplated regulations pertinent to a scooter-sharing company. The complex safety questions raised by bringing a company like Bird, with a novel business model, into Athens are simply not addressed in a simple application for a business license,” said Brutz.
Melanie Fincher is a fourth year majoring in journalism and international affairs in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
Kaitlyn Brandon is a fourth year majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism an Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.