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Bird flies west as Lime squeezes into Salt Lake City's rentable scooter scrum

SALT LAKE CITY — As expected, Bird Rides Inc. expanded its fleet of vehicles west of I-15 as it redeployed rentable electric scooters in downtown Salt Lake earlier this week after obtaining a business license.

On Friday, it appeared from the Bird smartphone app that there were about 100 scooters in the downtown business district and about the same number on the west side of the city. The company could put as many as 500 two-wheeled runabouts in the capital per rules stipulated in an operating agreement with Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski tweeted Thursday evening that another of the big, new providers of so-called networked active transportation systems, Lime, had also secured a business license to launch downtown. While Lime operates systems renting both dockless scooters and bicycles, Salt Lake City Transportation Director Jon Larsen told the Deseret News he'd had indications from the company that it'd likely start with scooter service in Utah.

Dockless companies rent scooters and bikes for rides via a smartphone app and, instead of needing to return vehicles to a designated location, or dock, they can be left wherever users finish their trips. Locating a vehicle to rent is also coordinated by the app, which identifies available scooters or bikes with a digital map.

Several other companies, according to city officials, have expressed interest in coming to Salt Lake, but thus far, only Bird has actually made the plunge. Larsen said he believed Lime, with business license in hand, could launch any day.

While some cities have complained of being overrun with dockless scooters and bikes dropped without warning on their communities with a few choosing to respond via court order or litigation, a new wave of efforts to accommodate the tech-driven systems appears to be afoot.

Chicago resident Boris Kuljanin took a break from his business visit to Salt Lake City Friday to take a Bird scooter out for a ride. Bird Rides Inc. expanded its Utah fleet Friday, adding

Art Raymond, Deseret News

Chicago resident Boris Kuljanin took a break from his business visit to Salt Lake City Friday to take a Bird scooter out for a ride. Bird Rides Inc. expanded its Utah fleet Friday, adding "nests" of the rentable electric scooters on Salt Lake's west side in addition to the downtown deployments.

To put reasonable rules in place, Salt Lake City leaned on the experiences of other cities that have become hosts to dockless vehicles, as well as newly released guidelines from the National Association of City Transportation Officials. The agency has been working since the emergence of dockless transportation systems to create guidelines for municipalities struggling to keep up with the latest innovations.

A spokesman for Biskupski said the effort to accommodate the new systems was aimed at integrating the options into the city's overall transportation matrix.

"The city is open to examining all transportation options which get people out of their cars and clear the air," the spokesman said. "The pilot agreement that has been crafted will help us see how we can integrate this new technology into our transit mix and address concerns it may also bring."

Larsen said residents or visitors who encounter issues with or have questions about dockless scooters in Salt Lake City can share them with city officials via dockless@slcgov.com.