“Anything new tends to feel disruptive and can sometimes be controversial,” said Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden in an interview.
Disruptive and controversial must be emphasized, since the company faced serious consumer and legal backlash for putting their scooters into cities without city permission. And yet, Bird announced they are putting scooters in 150 college towns for a pop-up tour. Athens has not been spared.
Despite its arrogant expansion model, Bird scooters foreshadow the future ecosystem of transportation. Within the next decade, vehicles will be app-based, shared and sustainably powered just like Bird’s scooters.
It’s no accident that Bird selected college towns in their pop-up tour. College campuses represent the perfect territory to test out shared electric scooters. Young adults not only possess the agility to maneuver the vehicles but maintain high-enough need to consistently use them.
Whether to get to class or to move to the nearest dining hall, reaching for a Bird will be as habitual as waiting for the bus. Even if the ride-sharing company doesn’t stay in Athens, Bird introduced the convenience of personally driven shared vehicles to an accepting population.
But this shift is different from other ride-sharing innovations, such as with Uber and Lyft, which were already prevalent in Athens. Rather than paying for access to the driver, Bird allows consumers to pay for access to the vehicle itself. That is the major step for the future of transportation.
As with pay-as-you-go scooters, pay-as-you-go cars will become the new norm. Google, Tesla, Mercedes and other companies plan to put driverless cars onto the road within the next decade. These cars won’t be operated by human drivers, as with Uber, Lyft and other taxiing services, but with sensors and software. Autonomous cars will not only be safer overall but offer mobility to the disabled and allow all passengers in a car to be productive, among other benefits.
Since these driverless vehicles are owned by major companies, consumers forgo insurance, gas and maintenance costs necessary to maintain owned vehicles. And given that owned vehicles are only used on average for 10 percent of the day, shared vehicles will free up parking garages and busy streets around the world. In addition, reducing the number of cars on the road reduces greenhouse gas emissions, a necessary step for climate change mitigation.
There may come a day when financial, spatial and environmental reasons will sway Americans to not own a vehicle rather than to own one, just like how some may opt to pay for a Bird scooter ride rather than own an electric scooter.
Of course, this day hasn’t come. All that has arrived are shared scooters studding the streets of Athens. And yet, whether students plan to use the scooters or not, their existence in Athens signify the cultural shift in personal transportation.