Bird Tries to Wedge E-Scooters Into L-Train Shutdown Plans

The company's rosy forecast predicts 5,500 daily e-scooter riders per day during the shutdown.


SB Donation NYC header 2Mayor de Blasio thinks Bird and other e-scooters are dangerous and he personally would never ride one.

Then again, the chauffeured mayor has nothing to worry about when the L train shuts down in April — and scooters suddenly become indispensable for stranded commuters.

That’s the message of a report put out Monday by Bird scooters, which is using the looming L-pocalyse to claim that e-scooters will be especially helpful in Brooklyn neighborhoods at Ground Zero of the shutdown [PDF].

The company’s self-serving analysis — it does not mention other e-scooter companies — claims Bird scooters could play a critical role connecting displaced L riders to far-away subways, reducing the time spent getting to and from stations. That, Bird argues, will deter more people from opting for congestion-inducing for-hire vehicles.

Bird’s target users would live in one of three zones located between .5 and 1.5 miles from the J/M/Z trains. The idea is to attract L train riders seeking to access those subway lines, which will be the only trains in the neighborhood providing direct service to Manhattan. (The MTA is also running shuttles buses into Manhattan.)

The proposal anticipates few if any commuters will take the scooters over the bridge. For those that do, scooters would be dropped off and picked up at one of three geo-fenced “nests” in the East Village near 14th Street.

“As part of a broader New York City e-scooter pilot, a deployment of e-scooters has the potential to uniquely serve and benefit commuters most impacted by the L train shut down,” the report by HR&A Advisors says.

But that prediction is hard to support. Most important, it is unclear if  there will be buy-in: The company claims 5,500 people will use those scooters each day to either access J/M/Z trains or cross the East River on the Williamsburg Bridge. There’s good reason to doubt that estimate, however. It’s based entirely on a survey that found 21 percent of displaced L riders would be “very likely” to “try” riding an e-scooter to the train or to work.

But the timing of the report is no coincidence: The L train is shutting down this April — and scooters currently play no role in the Department of Transportation/Metropolitan Transportation Authority mitigation plan.

At the same time, pushed by a concerted lobbying effort by companies like Bird and Lime, a cadre of city council members has proposed to legalize e-scooters. One of their bills anticipates Bird’s L train dream by requiring DOT to allow scooter companies to operate in neighborhoods affected by the L shutdown, as well as those currently outside of the Citi Bike service area.

“People are using e-scooters to get from A to B, but as often or more often, they’re using e-scooters to go to that subway stop or train stop or bus stop that’s a little bit out of the way. That’s going to be very relevant to the L train shutdown,” Bird Director of Safety Policy and Advocacy Paul Steely White said at the council members’ press conference unveiling the legislation.

Mayor de Blasio, however, has not been bullish on the latest trend in “micro-mobility,” citing unsubstantiated concerns about safety.

Bird's proposed deployment zone. Image: Bird
Bird’s proposed deployment zone. Image: Bird

But plans have been in the works for months to increase the number of the Citi Bikes available in areas affected by the shutdown. Citi Bike operator motivate plans to deploy 1,000 pedal-assisted e-bikes for the shutdown, increase the size of its fleet by 1,250 bikes, and provide “valet service” at busy stations to ensure bikes are available.

Ultimately, the report acknowledges that the success of Bird’s proposal depends on what someone is willing to pay to cut his or her walk to the subway. At $1 per ride, plus 15 cents per minute, a typical rider might hop a scooter to cut a 20 minute walk down to five minutes, but many riders in the L-free zone will still be within shorter walking distance to alternative transportation.

And then there’s the issue of L train riders who are already pledged to Citi Bike.

Cost-wise, Citi Bike is a better deal for its regular users: a single Bird ride costs $1 plus $.15-cents per every minute of use. A single Citi Bike ride costs $3, but year-round members pay $169 for unlimited rides. That comes out to just $.23-cents per ride if one rents two Citi Bike per day every day of the year.

“If the e-bikes are available like they say they will be, then I will definitely opt for Citi Bike first, just because I’m already paying for it,” said Max Sholl, a North Brooklyn resident who’s led weekly rides over the bridge ahead of the shutdown.

But Bird’s fleet is 100 percent electric — which could give it a leg-up in attracting riders wary of tiring themselves biking over the Williamsburg Bridge.

“I would definitely be interested in riding one of the Bird e-scooters, especially into Manhattan over the bridge,” Sholl said. “I don’t usually Citi Bike over the bridges because they’re so heavy, and it’s a haul.”

SB Donation NYC header 2Our December Donation Drive continues!

  • Albert

    Regarding this quote from the article: <<>>

    I nearly always opt for a Citibike *instead* of my regular bike whenever I ride the Manhattan Bridge, specifically because the Citibike’s “Infinity” gearing makes the pedaling so much easier than on my 12-speed—even though my 12-speed is so much lighter. (I usually have very little trouble finding a Citibike with the Infinity gears.)

  • Gasp ! The photo on the top says it all : can you imagine scooters mixed in with the thousands of pedestrians in the sidewalk ?

  • Fran Taylor

    Why does Streetsblog insist on running photos of scooters being ridden on the sidewalk, conveying tacit approval of this behavior?

  • AnoNYC

    These scooters are already here and people ride them on the street like most other users of personal mobility vehicles.

    In places that people predominantly ride them on the sidewalk, there is already an established culture for doing so with bicycles as well. Traffic oftentimes just travels too fast to feel safe. Much more quickly than in NYC.

  • Daphna

    Scooters should be introduced to NYC in a big way, for the L train shutdown and for transportation in general. If they do not fit in existing spaces (sidewalks, streets, bike lanes) then more street space should be re-allocated away from motorists and vehicle storage to scooters. Let’s have protected scooter lanes next to protected bike lanes… EVERYWHERE!

  • Because they make sense on a lot of sidewalks.

  • You get a scooter, you get a scooter, you get a scooter! Everybody gets a scooter!

  • cjstephens

    The writer is shocked! shocked! that a for-profit company might want to take advantage of a crisis to make some money. I don’t know how far off the mark their proposals are, but dismissing Bird’s ideas just because they stand to make a profit isn’t enough to reject them so haughtily.

    What I would really like to hear more about is how motorized and non-motorized means of transportation might work together in the city’s bike infrastructure. Can bikes, e-bikes and motorized scooters all get along? It would be useful to know how that is or isn’t working out in other cities.

  • Daisy’s World

    Electric scooters have become the hot new area for startups and “innovation.” For those who haven’t been keeping track, there are three main players in the Silicon Valley scooter wars: Bird, Lime and Spin. Bird first launched in Venice, Calif. before expanding into San Francisco in March. It’s worth pointing out that Bird, for now, is strictly an electric scooter company. That’s not the case for Lime and Spin, which both have their own bike-share services deployed throughout various parts of the country and world. That same month — almost in complete lockstep — Lime and Spin deployed their own electric scooters in the city. Fast forward to June and the city of SF has placed a temporary hold on electric scooters until it can review permit applications. As part of a new city law, which went into effect June 4, scooter companies are not able to operate their services in SF without a permit.

  • Daphna

    It’s a shame that politicians are pushing back against electric scooters in San Francisco. A better reaction instead of limiting operations by dreaming up a scheme for unnecessary permits for e-scooters, would be to start installing infrastructure that would facilitate safe e-scooter usage – such as a network of dedicated on street lanes for scooters. But alas, instead politicians push back against the new, better, popular travel option and seek to make it harder to implement and expand so they can instead protect the status quo. Permits for e-scooter are just plain WRONG! Everyone in San Francisco who wants to be able to use this popular transportation option should contact their politicians and rally against permits.

  • Daphna

    E-scooters are a good thing. They are a popular travel option. I was disappointed that streetsblog covered this in a negative way.

  • Learned Hand

    Sad that PSW gave up an honorable role as an advocate to work for this company. Guess the price was right.

  • Daphna

    Paul Steely White was making over $194,000 annually at Transportation Alternatives so presumably his salary was even higher to join Bird.

  • Learned Hand

    My point still stands

  • 1 Less Car

    Maybe Debughatti is so concerned about Lime scooters…so how many people die by cars?

  • Ishamgirl

    That’s what all you out of towners get for stuffing yourselves into one hood. Never got the obsession with Brooklyn.

  • Nathan C Rhodes

    That comment smacks of self-righteousness. As if you have any right to judge his decision to leave TA.

  • Learned Hand

    He wasn’t a great leader of TA, and I’m entitled to an opinion as much as you are.