Bird sightings are becoming more common in Seattle. Bird scooters that is.
GeekWire readers — and this reporter — have spotted what look like Bird’s shared electric scooters cruising around Seattle. But no scooters are available for rent in the Bird app and the Seattle Department of Transportation still expressly forbids scooter share companies. So what gives?
One explanation is Bird’s low profile ambassador program. The Santa Monica, Calif., company has enlisted Seattleites to drive their scooters around, provide feedback, and get their friends hyped about the new mobility craze.
Ben Gilbert, co-founder of Pioneer Square Labs, is one such ambassador. He’s been commuting via Bird for the past few weeks in Seattle.
“The main point of the ambassador program is to raise awareness about Bird among Seattleites, have them check out the app, and email the city if they would like to see Bird launch in Seattle,” he said.
Bird declined to comment on how many ambassadors there are in Seattle but Gilbert estimates the number is around 30.
“We have given Birds to friends of the company in Seattle to test the vehicles’ utility and viability in the city,” a Bird spokesperson said.
It’s yet another example of how eager Bird and other scooter share companies are to launch in Seattle. Earlier this year, GeekWire discovered job listings seeking freelancers to charge Bird scooters in Seattle. Bird had also posted a community manager position for the region.
But Bird and its competitors won’t be able to legally launch in Seattle without the green light from SDOT. The department finalized rules for free-floating bike share companies in July, declining to include scooters to the consternation of some companies. SDOT has notified all operators of scooter share services that if they launch without authorization, they could face fines and their scooters will be confiscated.
“Bird continues to have productive conversations with city officials and community leaders,” the company spokesperson said. “We hope to be able to bring our service to Seattle soon.”
Bird launched a year ago and quickly raced to a $2 billion valuation. It’s not an outlier. Investors are pouring millions of dollars into new mobility companies betting they will transform how urbanites get around. Whether those companies will be able to clear regulatory hurdles in cities like Seattle remains to be seen.