Are You Following the Bird Scooter Story?

Photo credit: Mickey, CC BY 2.0.

So… remember a few weeks ago, when I did the “This Week in Pods” about the company that wanted to add tiny pod cars to all of the rentable bikes and scooters currently littering our metropolitan areas?

I have since learned that one particular brand of rentable scooter comes with an unexpectedly exploitable set of economic incentives.

Okay. The Bird Scooter is an electric scooter that you can rent for as little as “$1 to start.” You’re supposed to bring your own helmet and use bike lanes instead of sidewalks — and if you want to make a few extra bucks to offset the cost of your ride, you can sign up to be a Bird Scooter Charger.

Chargers are responsible for finding discarded scooters, taking the scooters back to their homes, recharging them with a Bird-provided charger, and returning the fully-charged scooters to their Nests (aka scooter pick-up locations) by morning.

Here’s where it gets interesting. We’ll start with The Atlantic:

Like Pokémon Go, when you enter “charger mode” the Bird app displays a real-time map of Birds across your area that require charging. The reward for capturing and charging these Birds can range from $5 to $20 depending on how difficult the Bird is to locate—and some can be really hard to find. Bird chargers have described finding Birds in and under trash cans, down the side of a canyon, hidden in bushes, or tossed sideways on the side of the street.

Bird chargers have also found uncaptured scooters packed by the dozen into a charger’s truck. Since the reward goes up for both hard-to-find scooters and scooters that have been sitting out for a long time, Bird “hoarders” like to collect as many scooters as possible without tagging them as “captured” on the app. Then, all the hoarders have to do is wait for the reward to go up before capturing and charging.

Except… all the other Bird chargers can still see the uncaptured-but-hoarded scooters on their apps. At Slate, Nathanael Buckley signed up to be a charger and wasted a lot of time chasing down scooters he didn’t realize were hoarded before he figured out the game — or, at least, figured out part of it:

Late in the evening at a grocery store, I happen upon an unattended pickup full of scooters that are allegedly “uncaptured,” but I decide that lifting some off the pile would be unsportsmanlike.

A lot of Bird chargers would disagree with you, Buckley. If you read the Atlantic article — and you should — you’ll learn that chargers are so eager and/or desperate to earn their rewards that they attack other chargers’ cars, create Facebook groups to steal other chargers’ identities, and pretend to be official Bird representatives so they can walk away with another charger’s scooters.

You should also read the Slate article, to see what happens when Buckley tries to report scooter hoarding and other violations to Bird. (I mean, you probably already know what happens, but it’s still worth reading.)

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