E-scooter startups Lime, Bird, and Spin launched fairly peacefully in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week--a markedly different situation than when all three launched without warning in San Francisco earlier this year. This time, after only one company deployed its scooters prematurely, the startups worked with the city and received permits to operate, government officials confirm.

Charlotte, in fact, has welcomed each e-scooter company to deploy between 50 and 300 scooters as part of the city's Shared Mobility Pilot Program. The program, which was originally created to regulate Charlotte's bike share program, is temporary and ends in October.

"We are proud to work with the Mayor and City Council to offer the people of Charlotte a new, affordable, and convenient way to get around the city that doesn't add to congestion or carbon emissions," Travis VanderZanden, founder and CEO of Bird, said in a statement.

Spin, Bird, and Lime may arguably have learned from their launch in San Francisco, when they caused uproar by deploying e-scooters without permission. Since then, Spin has pledged not to expand without receiving permission, according to co-founder Euwyn Poon. Bird has continued to catch local governments off-guard, notifying city officials in Los Angeles, Nashville, and the Arizona cities of Scottsdale and Tempe the day before launch or while it was deploying the scooters. Lime has expanded in a similar fashion--it launched in Charlotte earlier this month without a permit, according to news reports, but was quickly shut down. Lime also launched in Hawaii without permission and eventually shuttered operations after police confiscated its scooters. Lime did not respond to multiple calls and emails this week.

Kenneth Baer, a Bird spokesman, said the company's position is that they only launch in a market where it is legal to do so.

As for why it chose Charlotte, Baer said the reason was twofold. "Charlotte's a great city, a big city, and they were setting up a permitting process," Baer says. "It was an easy decision--we got a permit and at this time of year there's no weather barrier."

The aggressive strategies that the e-scooter companies have used elsewhere have been described as taken from Uber and Lyft's playbook. Spin and Bird were actually founded by former Uber and Lyft executives. One of Bird's recent hires hails from Kitty Hawk, the Google-backed flying-car company.

"We have a leadership team that's very experienced in bringing new transportation options to cities," Baer says. "Our approach is this: come into a city, work with them, and help solve a problem for them."

It remains to be seen if e-scooters can solve a city's traffic problems, but it's clear that the startups are moving into cities across the U.S.

Published on: May 25, 2018