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East Side, West Side, Scooters All Around

As Baltimore’s Bike Share program collapsed last summer, the city replaced it with a dockless electric scooter program.

Now, the Baltimore Sun reports that the bike vendor, Bewegen Technologies, tried to bill the city half a million dollars more than the initial amount and asked the city to write a report on stolen bicycles large enough to allow the company to make an insurance claim. City officials refused.

Meanwhile, the scooters appear to be a big hit, even in predominately black neighborhoods sometimes bypassed by innovation.

Rapper and Baltimore native David King, who goes by the name Dee Dave, was taken with them so much he put one of the Bird dockless scooters in his new music video. In it, he’s shown cruising down a city street on one while he raps.

“I just seen the birdy I was like why not use the birdy, because that’s what it’s known here now for,” he says. “It’s been, like, really going on a lot far as the birdy for maybe a summer now and everybody rides one.”

The video quickly made the rounds on social media, garnering over two thousand views on Twitter.

“It’s more of an availability and transportation for everybody,” he says. “I also feel like it kind of brings us together, to be honest. When you see people on birdies…you don’t see just one. You’ll maybe see a group.”

Baltimore shut down its troubled bike share program in August and launched a six-month pilot program with scooters by two start-ups, Bird and Lime. Since then the companies have placed approximately 2,000 scooters on city streets. In October, Baltimore’s Department of Transportation reported customers had taken more than 250,000 rides on those scooters.

Liz Cornish, executive director for the biking advocacy group Bikemore, says that Baltimore is something of an anomaly when it comes to the dockless scooters. There was a backlash against them in other cities, she says. Some companies came in uninvited without formal agreements. Other places, people saw the scooters as litter. But in Baltimore it wasn’t such a big deal.

 “We’ve been way more tolerant and more accepting of the scooters here,” she says. “And you see such a wide, diverse array of users; young, old, black, white, everybody in between.”

Cornish says remains a car-centered city, but that’s slowly changing.

Work is just about done on the Maryland Avenue Cycle Track, which provides more than two miles of protected lanes from 29th street to Pratt Street for cyclists. Last month, the City Council passed Complete Streets legislation aimed at making Baltimore easier to traverse for people who don’t use cars. 

Will dockless scooters and e-bikes be more successful than the bike share program? Dr. Celeste Chavis, a Morgan State University professor who studies equity and transportation, says the limited funding of the bikeshare program didn’t allow for enough docking stations.

“If you only have funding for maybe 40 stations but you need to have them all be within a bikeable distance, there’s no way that you can cover the city,” she said.

Without the need for docks, the scooters can more easily cover the whole city.

There is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to the future of the scooters. Come February, the pilot program ends and city officials will have to design a more regulated program for dockless scooters and electric bikes.

 It will be up to city officials and future vendors--be they Bird, Lime, or other companies--to ensure that the bikes and scooters are as accessible as possible.

Cornish says it comes down to profit. The vendors will look at what the city wants, what they can supply and “if it’s profitable, they’ll come here.”

She says that’s “sort of the risk you take” when you rely on private industry for public transportation.