Windsor’s e-scooter pilot halted temporarily following numerous thefts Leave a comment

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Windsor’s just-launched electric scooter pilot project that started on the weekend with big grins from excited users has hit a “disheartening” bump in the road.

In the first few days of operation, thefts in the city of the expensive GPS-equipped rental units were so frequent that operator Bird Canada put the program on hold Tuesday so it could concentrate on getting its stolen e-bikes back and rethink its local security and deployment plans.

The company announced the vehicles would be redeployed starting Wednesday afternoon.

Mayor Drew Dilkens expressed exasperation over the thefts, noting there’s really no point in stealing them. Their GPS deactivates them with locked wheels unless you’re a paying customer, and it gives an exact location where they’ve been taken.

“For them to suspend the operation within the first week because 10 per cent of the scooter pool was taken is truly disheartening, and I think we’re better than that as a community,” he said. “It’s not like someone can steal it and take it for a joyride. It’s de-activated.”

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Stewart Lyons, CEO of Bird Canada, said Wednesday there were a “fair number” of thefts during the first few days of the Windsor project. Most of the stolen e-scooters are back already with just a few more to retrieve.

He said such thefts — though higher than normal — happen in other Canadian cities when the e-scooters are first introduced. People who take them probably don’t realize they can’t use them as their own personal e-scooter. All they’re good for is as a 60-pound doorstop, he said.

“It’s not like it’s new,” he said of the Windsor thefts. “It’s just that it got a little high a little quickly in Windsor, a little more than we expected. So we took a day to recapture the scooters that were taken, to reassess our security plan and our deployment and a couple of other things to make sure we can reduce this.”

There’s no hiding them. Bird Canada staff know exactly where the stolen scooters are. So what follows is the unpleasant task of showing up at an address with a couple of people and a security guard, Lyons said.

A couple of Bird Canada e-scooters are shown in downtown Windsor on Monday, May 3, 2021.
A couple of Bird Canada e-scooters are shown in downtown Windsor on Monday, May 3, 2021. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Often there’s a tirade of expletives and excuses, such as the person found the e-scooter at the side of the road and decided to take it home for safekeeping. Because the wheels are locked unless you activate the e-scooter with the Bird Canada app on your phone, you literally have to pick it up and haul it away.

In at least one instance in Windsor, people used a shopping cart.

If there are problems, police are called, said Lyons, adding he can’t understand why people steal them.

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“They’re useless to people who steal them,” he said. “Eventually people realize it’s a fool’s game to do this and eventually it dies down. It’s just that it’s an uncomfortable up-and-down period to get through until we get to that point.”

Police have had to be called a few times in Windsor already, said Lyons. While reluctant to say exactly how many were taken, Bird Canada said more than 10 per cent were taken from the approximately 150 deployed in Windsor over the weekend. The plan is to ramp the total number up to 500 in the coming weeks, and also add 100 e-bikes.

City council chose Bird Canada (there were three bidders) in late March to run the one-year pilot project, which is run at no cost to taxpayers. The scooters are positioned in various locations within an area bounded by the river, Drouillard Road to the east, Tecumseh Road to the south and Prince Road to the west. The area is geo-fenced, meaning if they’re ridden beyond the borders the e-scooters slow down and freeze.

They’re accessed with a Bird Canada app you download onto your phone, billed to your credit card. The app has a map that locates available e-scooters nearby. Price is consistent across Canada: a $1.15 unlocking fee to start your trip, then 35 cents per minute.

Jasleen Kaur takes a spin on a Bird Canada e-scooter in downtown Windsor on Monday.
Jasleen Kaur takes a spin on a Bird Canada e-scooter in downtown Windsor on Monday. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star
The scooter can be left where it is. A Bird Canada team picks it up at night and then redistributes the e-scooters to ensure proper coverage. They’re brought back to a central location for recharging. Other than the start-up thefts, the response to the introduction of e-scooters in Windsor has been amazing, said Lyons, with hundreds of riders and really positive comments on social media.Dilkens said the city knew there were going to be some hiccups as the pilot project started, such as people leaving them in the middle of sidewalks, but the thefts threaten the project’s success.

“We really have a great opportunity to try something new, something that allows people to enjoy the waterfront in a different way as well,” said the mayor, who has seen e-scooters being enjoyed in Detroit and other cities.

“People enjoy it and it’s quite successful and we want it to work here, but it requires everyone to do their part in terms of where they leave them, how they handle them, and obviously stealing them is not appropriate.”

The mayor is currently nearing the end of a 14-day self-quarantine so hasn’t yet tried one out. But Laura Ash, the city’s active transportation co-ordinator who administers the e-scooter pilot project, went for a lengthy ride on Saturday, their first day in operation.

“From people down on the river on the trails, people in their cars rolling down their windows giving thumbs up and yelling out support, people in their houses coming out, it was an overwhelming, positive response from the residents,” she said. “It was really exciting.”

Ash expects the initial thefts are part of a learning curve for Windsor.

“I’m sure we can overcome this,” she said, noting that similar e-scooter programs run in hundreds of cities.

“I think people will learn it’s not worth it. I’m hopeful.”

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