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Bird flooded cities with electric scooters, and now it wants to help them better manage the influx

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The ‘GovTech Platform’ will help cities track scooter use and help with geofencing and reporting unsafe riding

Photo by Andrew Liptak / The Verge

Bird released a new set of tools for cities that are struggling to manage the influx of shareable electric scooters flooding their streets — a phenomenon that the Venice, California-based startup helped create almost a year ago. The tools, which Bird calls its “GovTech Platform,” are intended to assist cities in better integrating e-scooters into their overall transportation networks, the company says. But it will only be applicable to Bird’s scooters, not those from other companies.

The GovTech Platform includes a data dashboard for cities to track how its citizens are using electric scooters, as well as geofencing capabilities to prevent users from using or parking scooters in certain areas of the city. Bird has always offered anonymized data to cities in which it operates, but it admits that it can sometimes be clunky and difficult to parse through. In its initial release, the company’s dashboard will utilize API data on vehicle status and trips to create aggregated and categorized reports, in the hopes that it addresses any complaints for cities.

With geofencing, the Bird app will tell riders locations within a city where e-scooters are prohibited. (This is sure to win supporters in New York City, where the company is pushing for legislation to legalize the use of e-scooters.) The company is updating its app to include easier ways for users to report unsafe riding, riding on sidewalks, or poor parking. And it will feature educational messages for riders about local rules and safety tips.

The move comes as cities are increasingly passing new rules to regulate the use of app-enabled, dockless e-scooters that have exploded in popularity in recent months. While some celebrate their appearance as a quick, cheap, and non-polluting way to get across town, others held them up as the personification of tech-bro arrogance and complained that they were cluttering sidewalks and causing injuries.

Already, scooters are available for short-term rental in over 60 cities in the US, and they are making inroads in Europe and the Middle East. San Francisco, where many of the first scooters appeared, is expected to announce the winners of five citywide permits in the coming days.

As cities cracked down, the scooter startups have engaged in a concerted effort to rebrand themselves as willing partners that are ready to engage with lawmakers and public officials on ways to better integrate and regulate the dockless rideables. They’ve rolled out new products and initiatives that emphasize charitable giving, reached out to low-income communities, and vowed to contribute cash for infrastructure improvements.

Bird’s GovTech Platform is the latest of such efforts. It’s aimed directly at building a sense of trust with cities and rebutting those criticisms that, in the initial months, scooter startups prioritized growth and scale over community outreach.

“The cities we serve are Bird’s number-one customer, and partnering with them to deliver the data, insights, and products they need to advance their mobility programs and reduce congestion in their communities is essential,” said Travis VanderZanden, CEO and founder of Bird, in a statement.

Bird is bringing in fresh blood to handle its expanding policy effort. Marla Westervelt, who was a senior transportation planner for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was named senior manager of government solutions. Ben Handzo, formerly vice president of product at NationBuilder, will serve as lead product manager.