Birds are taking over urban areas and college campuses. And no, I am not referring to the small two-winged flying animals with feathers. Birds, created by Bird Rides, Inc., are dockless electric scooters that have been deployed in cities and college campuses all around the United States and a few cities abroad.[1] The company is based in Santa Monica but has since branched out to provide “reliable last mile electric scooter rental service” throughout the United States.[2] The company aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce traffic and congestion, and improve mobility in cities by providing a reliable and popular electric scooter rental service.[3] Bird rides start at $1 plus 20 cents per minute of operation.


Despite the company’s noble goals, Birds have become a source of controversy for city officials, university presidents, and pedestrians. The company first launched its scooters in San Francisco without obtaining appropriate permits. The city filed a cease and desist order in June 2018, and Bird scooters were removed from San Francisco.[4] In many cases, the company has taken a defiant approach by simply depositing Birds into cities without first informing municipal authorities or obtaining the proper permits. This has been a headache for city and university officials, in addition to the illegal parking, vandalism of the scooters, and collisions caused by Bird riders.[5]


In Michigan, there are “Bird nests,” or large deployments of Bird scooters, in two nearby communities: Detroit and Ann Arbor. The company has taken two different approaches before deploying scooters in each city. In the case of Detroit, the company notified Detroit city officials in advance of the deployment, but contrastingly, it surprised Ann Arbor officials. This post will compare the two different approaches taken by Bird Rides, Inc. and propose recommendations for entrepreneurs with potentially disruptive technology on how to properly interact with city officials and municipal administration.


Bird’s Approach in Detroit

Bird’s approach in Detroit compared to Ann Arbor demonstrates how startups can work with city officials and administration to foster a productive relationship. Prior to deploying Birds in Detroit, the company notified the proper authorities and filed the necessary paperwork to operate as a business in Detroit.[6] Detroit has struggled to find an accessible transit system according to Mark de la Vergne, Detroit’s Chief of Mobility Innovation, and he expressed excitement for another potential solution to the inner-city transportation.[7] By providing the city with prior notice, Detroit was able to plan accordingly and adopt the best practices of the cities that already have the Birds.[8] In fact, Department of Public Works issued a Memorandum of Interpretation on compliance by operators of electric scooters with provisions of the Detroit City Code in July 2018.[9] This short memo specified the applicable provisions of the Detroit City Code and clarified the best practices for scooter operators to ensure safety and compliance with the law.[10] Of course, there are still problems with scooter collisions and parking issues in Detroit by nature of the city congestion and dockless feature of the scooters.[11] However, Bird’s approach in Detroit has been consistent with its mission to “work closely with cities to help make transportation and more environmentally friendly.”[12]


Bird’s Approach in Ann Arbor

The company acted contrary to its mission. In September, it deposited a nest of Birds in Ann Arbor without notifying the city of Ann Arbor. The city was “caught off guard” and promptly sent an email to residents warning them that using the scooters could merit a ticket.[13] Specifically, operating the scooters on “sidewalks or leaving them in city streets is prohibited and subjects violators to citation by the city.”[14] In response to the Bird infestation, Ann Arbor has impounded more than two dozen Bird scooters that were improperly left in bicycle lanes, streets, or sidewalks.[15] Birds are being stored in the public works facility, which some are now calling the “Bird cage.”[16] The lack of notice provided by the company led to ill-will and an aggressive response by Ann Arbor city officials. The city of Ann Arbor and the company are currently working on a licensing agreement to address the parking issue in a deal that would allow Birds to be parked neatly on sidewalk extensions.[17] The licensing agreement must be approved by the City Council, but the terms and licensing fees are still “in the works.”[18] The company could have avoided a controversy by taking a similar approach to the Detroit scooter deployment.



Bird’s approach in Detroit compared to Ann Arbor exemplifies how startups can work better within regulatory schemes by working with city officials and administration. Is your technology disruptive? To the industry or to a populations way of life? If the latter, consider notifying local government or even inquiring into local procedures and permits, if any. This process would allow local officials adequate time to prepare and helps prevent the development of ill will among local government and population alike. Understandably, this can present a set of substantial obstacles for startups entering locations with overly-burdensome restrictions. However, startups should carefully weigh these decisions before introducing technology to an area. The costs of obtaining permits may far outweigh the costs of litigation or any other potential legal battle. Or vice versa. A strategic and self-aware approach can aid in relieving tension, hostility, and negativity.

[1] See Bird Rides, (last visited Oct. 15, 2018).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] See Carolyn Said & Evan Sernoffsky, Bye-bye, SF scooters as Bird, Lime and Spin go on hiatus, San Francisco Chronicle (June 5, 2018),

[5] Id.

[6] See Breana Noble, Bird electric scooters alight in Detroit, Detroit News (July 17, 2018),

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] See Detroit Dep’t of Pub. Works, Memorandum of Interpretation (July 18, 2018).

[10] Id.

[11] See JC Reindl & Marc Daalder, Detroit honeymoon now over for Bird, Lime rental scooters, Detroit Free Press (Oct. 12, 2018),

[12] See Bird, supra note 1.

[13] See Andrew Hiyama, City, University respond to surprise deployment of Bird scooters, Michigan Daily (Sept. 10, 2018),

[14] Id.

[15] See Ryan Stanton, Ann Arbor confiscates, locks up Bird scooters deployed at UM, MLive (Sept. 17, 2018), The

[16] See Ryan Stanton, Deal could allow Bird scooters to park on Ann Arbor sidewalk extensions, MLive (Sept. 18, 2018),

[17] Id.

[18] Id.