VOL. 133 | NO. 166 | Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Bird Finds Uncharted Nest at U of M
Special to The Daily News
The University of Memphis is the first college in the country to partner with Santa Monica, California-based electric scooter-sharing company Bird. Ted Townsend, hired as the U of M’s chief economic development and government relations officer in January, confirmed the exclusive partnership Tuesday.
“For us, it’s about student success,” Townsend said. “[Bird] is another affordable transportation option for students to get to campus and back to the community they call home.”
Raine Melendez picks up a Bird scooter on Highland near the University of Memphis on August 8, 2018. The University is the first college in the country to partner with the California-based electric scooter-sharing company to provide 'nests' of scooters on campus for students. (Daily News/Jim Weber)
Launch of the new partnership is anticipated next week as students resume classes for the fall semester. The pilot program will start with 50 scooters, spread across 10 “nests” located along the center spine of the main campus. The South Campus off of Park Avenue will have two other nests.
“If we see demand is going to increase, then we have the option of expanding,” Townsend said.
Officials for Bird were unavailable for immediate comment regarding the arrangement.
In June, City Councilman Kemp Conrad worked with Sam Reed, a strategic consultant for the council’s Nashville lobbyist firm The Ingram Group, to relocate about 200 scooters from Nashville after the Metro government there sent Bird a cease-and-desist letter.
With the dockless scooters available throughout Downtown, Midtown, Uptown, South City and Cooper- Young, Townsend saw students riding them in the University District and on campus this summer and saw an opportunity.
The formal partnership allows the U of M to customize the rules of engagement, Townsend said, through Bird’s downloadable App, which will list permissible riding and placement areas along with other dos and don’ts.
Bird, Campus Police and Student Services are collaborating to develop rules for the scooters.
“We’re focused on user experience and ease of use, but with safety being a concern and focus. We want to make sure we are providing that in a responsible way,” Townsend said.
Bird representatives anticipate being on campus next week providing free helmets and instruction to interested users.
It costs $1 to start a ride, plus 15 cents per minute after activation through the app. The scooters can reach 15 mph and last about 15 miles on a full charge.
The company hires “chargers” to collect the scooters each evening, re-charge them at their residences and place them back out each morning. While the university prohibits Birds in university dorms, Townsend said charging could be an entrepreneurial opportunity for students with their own housing arrangements.
“One day [this summer], I saw a group riding them on campus,” Townsend said, “so I rolled my [vehicle] window down and asked, ‘How do you like those?’ And they said, ‘We love them. We’re signed up to become chargers.’”
In addition to Bird, the U of M has signed an agreement with Bike Share to place rentable bicycles on campus.
“We are focused on offering a variety of solutions,” Townsend said. “We want it to be comprehensive, so students can choose their means of transportation.”