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Electric scooter hire is coming to the UK under a deal struck by $2 billion startup Bird

Category: Home Tech
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Electric scooter company Bird has taken a step towards entering the UK market by launching within the confines of London’s Olympic Park.

While the buzzy US startup can’t fully launch in Britiain because of laws that prevent scooters from being used on roads or pavements, Bird has found a way to get off the ground.

From Tuesday, Bird will make its scooters available along a route in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London. It follows talks with “multiple private landowners,” according to Bird UK Head Richard Corbett.

The Olympic Park was selected because its owners, the London Legacy Development Corporation, have toyed with new tech ventures in the past (such as a driverless bus), and because Bird was keen to solve what it views as a “mobility issue.”

At one end of the Olympic Park sits a business campus which houses multiple companies, plus two university campuses, to which Bird aims to provide faster access. Here’s the route:

The Bird route.
Bird/Google Maps

“This particular location suffers from a 30-minute walk from here all the way to the nearest tube station,” Corbett told Business Insider. “Using electric scooters we’re able to turn a 30-minute walk into a four-minute Bird ride.”

The plan is to start out with just 50 scooters and scale up depending on demand. “Gone are the days where you’ve seen dockless schemes in the past flood a market and annoy the city,” said Corbett. “We do responsible scaling.”

Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards on a Bird scooter.
Bird

Capped at a maximum speed of 15 mph, the scooters are geofenced, which means if anyone rides outside of the designated route the scooter will start to slow down and stop working.

Meanwhile, a handful of designated “Birdwatchers” will be stationed in the park throughout the day to make sure people are parking properly and dismounting to crossroads.

To mark the launch, Bird invited Olympic skier Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards to be its first UK rider.

Bird lobbying against old laws

Electric scooter companies have been unable to launch in the UK because of a 1988 law forbidding them from being used on the roads, and an 1835 law preventing them from riding on the pavement. Business Insider saw emails from Bird to London transport regulator TfL complaining about the 1835 law.

Corbett told Business Insider that Bird is focussed on lobbying to get scooters onto the road, not the pavement. “It’s just a matter of time, we need to take everyone on a journey and we’re patient,” he said.

He said Bird doesn’t know how long it might take to effect any legislative change, as the scooters will have to go through rigorous safety testing.

“We’re not going to launch without the city’s approval. So anything the DfT [Department for Transport] wants us to do we will do to demonstrate viability,” Corbett added.

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