Scooters offer new mobility options in downtown Detroit

When Frank Sorise begins his new job in marketing at Xenith on downtown Detroit’s west side in September, it’s a good bet he will hop on a Bird scooter and breeze along the 1.5-mile route from his loft in Brush Park.

“If there’s one outside my building, I’m going to grab it,” says Sorise, 27, who currently shares a car with his fiance, who works outside the city. “It really beats walking more than a mile and makes it easier to get from point A to B in the city.”

Sorise is exactly the part of the urban population on-demand transportation services like Bird are catering to in an ever-changing world of transportation needs. He doesn’t always want to drive a car (and, in some cases, doesn’t have access to one) to travel short distances. Sorise uses Bird to meet friends for dinner, to run errands and even attend baseball games.

Already in use in more than two dozen American cities, the electric-scooter sharing service is meant to cover distances too long to walk or too short to drive. Bird scooters can travel up to 15 miles an hour. They’re cheaper than other options; it costs $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute to ride.

Debuting in Detroit in July, the platform is the latest form in what transportation officials call mobility as a service or MaaS, that is, different types of transportation consumers can use and pay for by credit card or digitally. These services are growing around the globe.

“Bird scooters complement the different forms of transportation in this ecosystem,” says Glenn R. Stevens, vice president, Automotive and Mobility Initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber and executive director of MICHauto.

In Detroit, that ecosystem includes Bird, the QLine, the electric rail line that runs from downtown Detroit to Midtown, MoGo, a bicycle sharing service, and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

“As more and more people live, work and play in the city core, or even outside the city core, for that matter, we need transportation opportunities people can use to help them get around in a limited distance,” Stevens says. “It’s plays into the whole notion of living, playing and working in Detroit.”

Stevens sees Bird as another option for people who need access to mobility for a variety of reasons, and there is a need for more. Ultimately, the region, he said, needs a network of intermodal transportation systems that connect together so people can use them seamlessly.

Bird added Detroit to its roster of communities because of the city recognizing the need for an accessible and reliable transit system.

“There has been strong demand for Bird from the Detroit community thus far, and we expect ridership of our equitable mobility option to continue to grow as residents look for ways to augment their public transit routine with a solution for the first or last mile of a commute,” a Bird spokesperson says.

Detroit and Bird, the spokesperson says, have a shared vision of community with “fewer cars, less traffic, safer streets, and reduced carbon emissions."

The Motor City, Stevens said, is an ideal urban environment to pilot new mobility solutions. “The challenges of not having a well established mass transit system need to be viewed as an opportunity to deploy new technology and interconnected forms of transportation and new mobility,” he said.

Bird is easy to use. Riders download the Bird app to smartphones, which allows them to locate a scooter. They scan a barcode to unlock the electric motor. The scooters can be parked wherever they end up, as long as they’re not a nuisance. Another rider can locate the scooter on their app and take it to another location.

“They’re really an incredible idea,” Sorise says. “It’s so cool Detroit has it. It’s so vital for a city where public transportation is not reliable. In Chicago, there are plenty of ways you can get around without a car and it’s pretty impressive. In Detroit, you have needed a car to get around so it’s nice to have the Bird. It really reflects the new vibe in the city."

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