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Mass. Transportation Department Launches 'Comprehensive Review' Of Bird Scooters

A "nest" of Bird scooters on Cowperthwaite Street in Cambridge. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A "nest" of Bird scooters on Cowperthwaite Street in Cambridge. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
This article is more than 3 years old.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation said Wednesday that it is launching a "comprehensive review" of rentable, electric scooters such as those deployed in Cambridge and Somerville by Bird Rides, Inc., ratcheting up pressure on a company that has become a darling of venture capitalists.

MassDOT's review will seek to determine whether Bird's scooters violate a state law requiring motorized scooters to be outfitted with brake lights and turn signals. Bird's scooters have neither. Transportation officials have not said exactly what the review will entail, or when it will be completed.

Meanwhile, the Boston City Council voted Wednesday to hold a hearing on dockless, electric scooters in the fall. Bird appears to have an advocate in City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who proposed the hearing.

“Electric scooters could give our residents an easy and straightforward experience that improves quality of life by providing essentially door-to-door transportation,” O’Malley said in a statement. “I hope we can get out ahead of this issue and craft sensible regulation for Boston that addresses the concerns and benefits of dockless transportation, looks at what other cities have done to help their residents move around, and embraces innovation so that this new form of transportation can be an option in Boston.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has warned Bird to stay out of the city for now.

The ability of individual cities to make Bird a transit option could hinge on whether the company’s scooters are legal in the state. Cambridge officials pointed to a possible violation of state law when they ordered Bird to suspend service in the city on Monday. They also accused Bird of effectively operating as a street vendor without a permit.

Somerville served Bird a cease-and-desist letter on Tuesday and said city workers would begin to seize scooters if they are not removed by Friday. Cambridge also set a Friday deadline in a letter to Bird on Wednesday.

Bird has continued to operate in Cambridge and Somerville, despite officials' warnings. The company declined to comment on the MassDOT review.

Attorney General Maura Healey has so far declined to weigh in on the scooters' legal status.

The MassDOT review raises the prospect that Bird's scooters could be deemed illegal throughout the state, which would deal a major blow to a company that has raised $415 million in venture capital on the promise of expansion.

This article was originally published on August 01, 2018.

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Callum Borchers Twitter Reporter
Callum covered the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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