Bird, the rapidly expanding scooter startup, just announced a new program to subsidize rides for underserved communities and promote transit equity.
The initiative comes on the heels of several other big announcements in the fast-changing micromobility market, where startups are proposing their own programs for more environmental and social equity, and cities are figuring out new rules to manage these emerging transit options.
The One Bird program, which is available now in all 18 cities where Bird operates, will offer discounted rides to low-income riders. For most users, rides using the dockless electric scooter network include a $1 flat fee and 15 cents for every additional minute. The One Bird program would waive the $1 base fee for anybody currently enrolled in, or eligible for, state or federal assistance programs, such as CalFresh, Medicaid, or SNAP.
The company claims the approval process to join the program will take two to three business days.
Bird is positioning the change as a way to increase mobility options and help people get to work. In a press release, the company offered up a price comparison: $3 for a 20-minute discounted scooter commute versus a $10 ride-hailing trip.
It doesn’t hurt that this change comes as the company is jockeying with competitors like Lime, which recently received funding from Google and Uber, and Spin, while negotiating with city leaders drafting rules for the road for these new transit options.
Santa Monica, California one of the early markets for Bird, which is based in the adjacent LA neighborhood of Venice Beach, instated a 16-month pilot program that capped the number of scooters on streets based on vehicle utilization. San Francisco, another early market for Bird, pulled all scooters off streets in early June as part of a plan to evaluate the performance of a select number of vendors and determine who eventually gets permits to operate within city limits.
Both schemes reward operators for promoting safety, sustainability, and providing more transit options to underserved communities. In the words of the Santa Monica ordinance, cities want companies that support an “open and productive partnership.”
Dockless bikes have been promoted as a potential solution to improving transit access in underserved areas. But, as bike share successes such as Philadelphia’s Indego system have shown, a concurrent investment in infrastructure is often a big part of expanding transit equity. As scooter startups like Bird expand, infrastructure such as protected lanes has not kept pace.
One Bird also follows Lyft’s announcement earlier this week around transit equity and environmental sustainability. The ride-hailing company, which recently purchased Motivate, the nation’s largest bikeshare operator, plans to integrate scooters and bikes into its service to cut down on car trips, invest $1 million in programs to bring transport access to underserved communities, and champion the Vision Zero street safety campaign.