An epidemic, commensurate to that of the "freshman plague," has hit college campuses — and it could be just as hazardous to student's health. It's been called an invasion, an outbreak, and an infestation. Students have been injured and hospitalized. Universities are struggling to find means to put an end to the chaos, or at least pass proper measures to manage it. What's even more puzzling was its ability to seemingly appear overnight and further, ability to accumulate at an impossibly alarming rate.
Not a disease, not a virus; Bird Scooters.
When the electric scooters first hit college campuses, they were instantly a fad every student was dying to try for the amusement of it. They appeared to be useless, reckless, and to be candid – ridiculous. However, the overwhelming number of them dumped at once on these campuses was by no means a mistake.
As quickly as they appeared, students found birds to be useful for essentially everything. Whether to maneuver across campus from one class to the next, to travel directly from dorm or apartment to the grocery store or mall, or even for the entertainment of a unique and attention-grabbing ride across town. Bird Scooters effortlessly replaced our cars, public transport, and Ubers nearly instantly, leaving most of us to wonder; what are they, and where have they come from?
"Bird Company" was originally founded in Santa Monica, California in 2017 as an electric scooter company designed to rent scooters to residents of the city. Although similar startups exist, Bird was revolutionary in the way that their rental rates were irresistibly cheap at one dollar to begin riding and an additional 20 cents per minute of use. Additionally, they're uncomplicated and effortless to use. With the download of the Bird App, users can easily view the precise location of Birds in their vicinity, find the nearest Bird to them, and scan the QR code on the Bird with their phone. The rate automatically charges to the user account as they ride.
Even more convenient, because users can begin their ride anywhere a Bird can be found, riders can also leave them wherever they want their ride to end.
The scooters reach a swift 15 mph at their maximum and are meant to be fairly straightforward in their mechanics, with approximately no users finding difficulty in accelerating, braking, or turning. Their accessibility and ease make Birds the prime transportation option for travel distances that are slightly too long to walk, too brief to uber or taxi due to flat fares, or the trip would require an unnecessary effort in coordinating public transportation. In essence, electric scooters are quite possibly the singular mode of transportation we have been missing to account for these "awkward distances."
Bird Company is evocative of any number of wildly successful startups, ranking among Facebook, Uber, and Airbnb. Yet, it's surpassed the startup valuation of any company in history, valued at over 2 Billion dollars within its first year of business. With such unprecedented profits, it's too early to determine if the scooters are a fad or a permanent fixture of our means of transportation, nonetheless, new companies have followed suit with the same services and with similar rates to compete with Bird. Google, Uber, and Lyft have all invested millions into several of these in hopes that the electric scooters will withstand the test of time to replace the cars of city dwellers and university students for their shorter trips.
The success of Bird and its equivalents is undeniable, but it has not come without controversy. Although Universities acknowledge their prevalence on their campuses because their use is almost exclusive to students living in college towns or cities, their sudden and overwhelming takeover was in no way prepared for by these Universities. At first, university objection to electric scooters may seem frivolous and futile – an attempt to deter students from having fun with minimal risk. However, their concern is in no way unfounded.
With student safety being a primary concern of these Universities, they recognize that although the scooter companies set rules for their users (helmets are required, sidewalks are prohibited etc.), these rules are rarely, if ever, followed, and have no way of being enforced. In fact, the scooters have already been banned in San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Cambridge, and Columbus because of the boost in electric scooter accident hospital visits by both riders and pedestrians. There are no qualifications, apart from age, to ride the scooters, and no one to regulate the carelessness or recklessness of some users. In addition, because they can reach relatively high speeds, they are used as replacements to cars and other motor vehicles and thus often can be seen traveling through busy intersections, through crowded sidewalks, and in other areas where they are not clearly visible.
Unfortunately, many students have already been injured while riding Birds and several have been hospitalized. A Birding James Madison University student was nonlethally struck by a car in an intersection while a Bird accident at Cleveland State proved to be fatal for another.
The debate of whether or not Birds should be permitted on college campuses is incredibly controversial. Universities are caught between the demands of students for easy and affordable transport and ensuring the safety of those students. Regardless of the outcome, Bird Company is indicative of the ever progressing technological world we live in and a testament to the power of recognizing a need among an especially influential generation.