KEARNEY — For some apartment dwellers who don’t own cars or want to leave them parked, the arrival of Bird Scooters is like a dream come true.
“A lot of people who don’t have cars really like them,” said Trevor Sterkel, the division manager for Kearney’s Bird Scooter vendor.
Sterkel said the two-wheeled, ride-share vehicles are a convenient, inexpensive option for his customers. They may live too far from their jobs to walk or pedal, so they may arrange to have scooters ready to go at their apartment.
The scooters make getting to work or a night out more fun, and they’re easy to ride, Sterkel said.
Reserving scooters — like reserving a table at a restaurant — makes sense to a lot of people, said the local vendor for the black electric powered vehicles.
“During the concert at the county fair I had a lot of these scooters parked at the fairgrounds in reserve,” said Shiloh Cochran, who operates the Bird Scooter business in Kearney.
Cochran’s main business is Nebraska Public Safety Task Force, which he said employs more than 40 people who provide public and corporate safety and security services.
Hundreds of the Bird Scooters were parked earlier this week outside the headquarters for the safety and security business near 35th Street and Second Avenue.
Bringing the scooters to Kearney three weeks ago, Cochran said, is his company’s response to climate change.
The response to the scooters has been mostly positive, he said, but vandals have damaged some of them and some customers have disregarded the rules of use.
“If they’re being unsafe or damaging the scooters we shut them off,” Cochran said about customers misusing the scooters.
The vehicles have GPS technology that allows Cochran and his team to track where the scooters are and where they have been.
The technology helps Cochran decide where the heaviest usage occurs and where he’ll park the scooters so customers can conveniently locate and ride them. Customers can activate the scooters using their cellphones.
It costs $1 to start using a scooter and 39 cents per minute after that. Customers can ride to their location and leave the scooter, or they can reserve it for use later, Cochran explained.
He said some riders try to hop on a scooter after visiting the bars, but the rules for drinking and driving are the same on a scooter as they are in any motorized vehicle.
“One of the big misconceptions is that they can’t get a DUI riding on them. We want everyone to follow the rules. We don’t want anyone to get hurt,” he said.
The Kearney Police Department recently posted a list of eight scooter safety tips:
- Protect your head, wear a helmet.
- Obey all traffic laws and lights. Scooters must follow the rules of the road like other vehicles.
- Stay off sidewalks. Scooters are prohibited on sidewalks.
- Scooters are prohibited in all city parks.
- Scooters are prohibited on the trail system.
- Must be 18 to ride.
- Scooters are prohibited on roadways with speed limits of more than 35 mph.
- When parking don’t block sidewalks, railroad tracks, handicap or prohibited spaces.
KPD’s post said citizens can report scooter issues and concerns at Police 2 Citizen or by calling 308-237-2104, KPD’s non-emergency number.
Citizens also can download the Bird app and report non-emergency concerns directly to the vendor. KPD said Bird Scooters is a private business and is not associated with or endorsed by the city of Kearney.
Cochran said he’s exploring whether to expand to Grand Island and Hastings.
Earlier this week, another Bird vendor discussed a memorandum of understanding with the City Council in Columbus.
In Columbia, Missouri, home of the University of Missouri, the Bird vendor has been ordered by elected officials to remove all of its scooters from the city. Some of the problems surrounding the scooters have been linked to MU students abusing the two-wheel vehicles, such as making piles of them and blocking sidewalks.
Despite the problems, the city of Columbia will call for proposals from Bird and other vendors to provide scooters when classes resume.
KPD Capt. Mike Young said that Cochran and his company haven’t caused problems and have been easy to work with. Although Cochran is not a certified officer, his Nebraska Public Safety Task Force operates much the same as an official law enforcement agency.
“KPD has been very helpful and responsive,” Cochran said about relations with Kearney’s police.
Cochran encourages the public to contact Bird Scooters to report abandoned scooters or other problems.
There currently are almost 250 Bird Scooters in Kearney. Cochran said about 50 of those will be returned for repairs. Recharging the scooters takes several hours, but the charge lasts several days, Sterkel said.
Although there have been hiccups with the launch of the ride-share business, he said he is optimistic the public will adapt and use the scooters in the way they’re intended.
“We’ve had people who ask for them to be placed near apartment buildings so they can ride to work,” Cochran said. “On the Bricks, on Central Avenue downtown, has been a hot spot for us.”