Bird scooters in Boston/Cambridge

Bird scooters first came to Cambridge/Somerville (greater Boston) on the early morning of July 20, 2018. Morning deployments focus on the university areas, particularly MIT. I have seen electric scooters, skateboard and Segway like devices for the past decade in this area, so the concept is not as shocking to the general populace as many other markets where Bird has deployed.

Prohibited in Boston

Currently, Bird prohibits riding or parking in Boston. Boston’s Mayor Walsh has said with regard to Bird scooters in Boston:

If they drop them off here, we’re going to pick them up off the street and they can come pick them up at the tow yard

I have seen Birds on the map within Boston, but didn’t physically watch them to see if the city picked them up or other riders did first.

Riding difficulties

The $500 Xiaomi M365 scooter currently used by Bird and other scooter share companies is a front-wheel drive system. This can cause unstable behavior when on slippery surfaces, since it does not appear to have traction control. Specifically, if using one’s foot to assist going uphill, the front wheel can spin as the load is lightened, causing jerking side to side.

The ABS regenerative braking uses disc brakes for a stopping distance of less than 5 meters. Letting off the throttle engages the regenerative brake. The 250 Watt front wheel motor is powered by a 280 Watt-hour motor consisting of 30 18650 Li-ion batteries providing 36 volts to the BMS. The range is said to be up to 18 miles, however I have found that battery drain for typical city riding is:

  • 12-14 percent per mile on windy days
  • 10 percent per mile on calm days

Thus I think a sub-10 mile range is more realistic under varying real-life conditions including uphill and frequent stop-start. Average speeds in the 8-10 mile per hour range are typical, with a maximum speed of 15 mph.

Empty battery

When the battery gets below about 10% and you end a ride, the Bird scooter will not appear on the map. If you try to rent it anyway by scanning its QR code, you’ll get message:

Low Battery: We’re sorry, this Bird is not available because it has a low battery.

Poor GPS location

Typical Navstar GPS user horizontal position accuracy is better than 5 meters in clear areas. However, I have experience on a frequent basis in the greater Boston area that Bird location may be 50 - 300 meters from where the Bird map shows, much too far away to hear the Bird “chirp” alarm from the app. Be prepared to hunt for the Bird scooter.

This poor scooter location accuracy is a readily solvable problem with modern aGPS receivers. We would be happy to discuss solutions for this issue with Bird or other scooter sharing companies.

Broken bells

Most of the Bird scooters I’ve ridden have non-functioning bells. This seems to be because Bird’s handlebar electronics box is mashed into the bell, so instead of “ding ding” you get “click click”. This is something Bird really needs to fix.

Need for rolling start

The Bird Xiaomi M365 scooter requires a minimum speed of 3.1 mph to start the motor. Below this speed, the throttle will not engage the motor.

Climbing hills

The maximum incline (climbing angle) of the Bird Xiaomi M365 scooter is 14%. On various roads around greater Boston, you’ll find giving the scooter some help by using your foot will help you go at a faster speed.

Bird scooter malfunction

The Xiaomi M365 controller monitors numerous faults. Over temperature or over current faults can be tripped while climbing a hill at max throttle. The symptoms of this may include a flashing taillight and no acceleration (motor does not activate). For Bird, the scooter may lock but the headlight may stay on, the Bird controller box on the handlebars may show green (no red lock LED) and the taillight remains in a series of single flashes after locking through the Bird app.

Tires

The Bird Xiaomi M365 scooters use 50 psi tire inflation pressure. This means bumps are keenly felt–keep your knees slightly bent and slow down in advance whenever possible.

Bird vs. biking

The average speed is similar for a bikeshare bike such as Blue Bikes and Bird. The benefit of Bird is you don’t get sweaty from riding, if you have dress clothes on for example. The downside of Bird is the far higher cost. Many city dockable bikeshare systems have $100 yearly memberships, with as much as 50% off common for employer programs.

Current scooter share pricing (Bird, Lime, Spin) is $1 + $0.15/minute in many US cities. This is actually similar to (perhaps 30-50% cheaper than) typical Uber Pool Express pricing in greater Boston. The market for scooter share is actually a bit different from but overlapping with bikeshare. Scooter share is more for people who would be taking rideshare cars for couple mile trips, so having pricing a bit under rideshare cars makes sense.

The cost of recharging and maintaining the electric scooters is considerable, and so having each scooter used numerous times per day is important for making up the $5-10 minimum the companies pay out to those doing the charging gig work.

References

Xiaomi M365 user manual

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Written by Michael Hirsch, Ph.D. //