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Bird Rides, a rideshare company interested in bringing its electric scooter program to Riverhead last year, appears to have abandoned its plans after expressing to local officials that the town’s regulations on electric scooters were too restrictive, according to Councilman Ken Rothwell.

Rothwell said Bird has not contacted the town since last year, after the company objected to town officials on local regulations that confine e-scooters to the downtown area and mandate that riders wear helmets while operating them.

“They just kind of stopped inquiring with us,” Rothwell said. “So they never said like, ‘hey, we’re not interested in Riverhead.’ But based on the current plan that we had and the current area, they just kind of stopped making contact with us and stopped asking about going forward and came to terms of actually finalizing a contract with it.”

The Town Board held a work session with Bird representative Jeremy Lynch in April 2021, where Town Board members discussed and expressed support for the partnership. Bird, a California-based micromobility company, rents electric scooters through an app, much like the town’s bike share program. Users of the app must be 18 or older, provide identification and pass a safety course before renting. Bird has rentals set up in over 400 cities across the world, according to the company’s website.

[See prior coverage: Riverhead eyes electric scooters for downtown]

Soon after the first meeting, the Town Board began to draft an amendment to town code section 213, which governs bicycles, and passed a local law codifying the amendment last October. In addition to establishing the boundaries to the downtown area and mandating helmets, the law also requires that scooters only be operated up to 15 mph and cannot operate on roadways with a speed limit of more than 30 mph, as well as on Main Street. They also cannot be operated in designated bicycle lanes or on sidewalks. 

[See prior coverage: Proposed code changes would restrict electric scooters ahead of rideshare program launch]

A Bird spokesperson said at the time the draft was released that the company wasn’t aware of regulations the town was contemplating for the use of electric scooters, but said “they’re [Bird] sure they will be able to work within their [the town’s] parameters.”

That doesn’t appear to be the case. The company wanted to allow the electric scooters all around town, Rothwell said. The company also did not have the means to monitor whether a rider has a helmet or to distribute a helmet to every rider for use, Rothwell said. Both these restrictions were put in place to ensure riders’ safety.

“I think they thought maybe our restrictions were a little bit too much for them to profit off of it,” Rothwell said.

Bird Rides did not respond to an email requesting comment before this article was published.

Rothwell said that, contrary to Bird’s statement to RiverheadLOCAL last year, the town was in communication with Bird by email during the drafting of the code.

Rothwell said he would still like to see a partnership with Bird and the town. He said the company may be interested in the future as more development projects in the downtown area are erected, such as the town square and mixed-use apartment building near Riverhead’s Long Island Rail Road station.

“I would potentially hope that they will consider coming back in the future. I think it’s a nice, you know, recreational activity; it can be fun downtown. But we have to constantly take in the safety factor of it,” he said.

Bird has had mixed success throughout the United States. Some residents in neighborhoods have raised concerns over scooters being abandoned on the sidewalk, like in West Springfield Massachusetts, or missing entirely, like in Littleton, Colorado. Bird also announced last week it would pull its business out of St. Joe and Benton Harbor in Michigan. Meanwhile, they’ve become a hit in other areas like Oswego County upstate, where they are popular among college students at SUNY Oswego.

In May 2021, a month after Lynch’s conversation with the Town Board, Bird went public by merging with special purpose acquisition company with an implied valuation of $2.3 billion, according to TechCrunch. Since then, it has been mostly downhill financially for the company, which had already suffered a heavy hit in 2020. The company generated $205.1 million in revenue in 2021, a net loss of $196.3 million.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]