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Bird Rides Agrees to ‘No Contest’ Plea, More Than $300,000 in Fines in Santa Monica Case

 

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

February 15, 2018 – Bird Rides, Inc., the Santa Monica start-up behind the wildly popular motorized scooters zipping through the city's streets, has agreed to a “No Contest” plea and more than $300,000 in fines and restitution, City prosecutors announced Wednesday.

The agreement stems from a criminal complaint flied by the City on December 6, 2017 that included multiple counts of violating local law by operating a commercial scooter rental business on the public right of way without a proper City business license and failing to comply with City administrative citations.

As part of the plea agreement, Bird Rides and founder/CEO Travis VanderZanden accept responsibility for violating local law and agree to “significant penalties,” City officials said in a statement.

“With this agreement, Bird and VanderZanden acknowledge that they failed to comply with the City of Santa Monica’s business licensing requirements which are designed to protect the safety of the public,” said Deputy City Attorney Eda Suh.

“Bringing this new business into compliance with local law achieves a fair and positive outcome for the people of Santa Monica,” Suh said.

The plea agreement must still be approved by the California Superior Court before it becomes effective. Prosecutors and Bird will return to court February 26th for court approval.

Bird spokesman Marcus Reese said in a statement Wednesday that the company was "pleased" it was "able to work out our differences regarding licensure" and that the City agreed to dismiss the nine original misdemeanor counts.

"Bird now starts fresh with the city, and we look forward to continuing to provide a safe, environmentally friendly transportation solution to the people of Santa Monica,” Reese said.

Bird Inc. started doing business in Santa Monica in September, and its service quickly took flight. The rental e-scooters are already ubiquitous on city streets, with reportedly has an estimated 50,000 subscribers logging 250,000 rides since launching in the beach city.

But the scooters are also the source of numerous complaints from motorists, pedestrians and others also trying to negotiate the crowds.

The police force officially started a crack-down earlier this year ("Santa Monica Police Remind Riders of Motorized Scooters to Follow the Law," January 12, 2018).

In one week, police issued 92 tickets to Bird riders on a variety of infractions, including not wearing a helmet, riding on a sidewalk or leaving the vehicle in a right of way.

Amid its legal tussle with Santa Monica, the service has expanded in the Westside -- the scooters are also popular in Venice -- and recently announced it had raised $15 million as VanderZanden eyes taking the company into San Diego.

As part of its plea agreement with Santa Monica, Bird agreed to:

* Secure proper City business licenses and work with the City’s Business License Division to ensure compliance with local business licensing regulations.

* Pay previously issued Administrative Citation fines totaling $6,115.63 and additional fines and investigative costs totaling $300,000.

* Run a week-long public safety education campaign on the Big Blue Bus.

* Accept responsibility for Bird’s prior conduct, plead “No Contest” to an infraction and pay additional criminal fines of $200 plus statutory penalty assessments.

The City “will devote a significant portion of the fines it will collect to a broader public safety campaign for Vision Zero, the City Council’s goal of eliminating deaths and significant injuries from traffic collisions,” a spokesperson said ("Santa Monica City Council Calls for Safe Streets 'Czar,'" May 11, 2017).

The California Vehicle Code prohibits motorized scooters from being operated on sidewalks or on the beach bike path, and riders must have a valid driver’s license and wear a helmet, with only one person per vehicle.

The Santa Monica Police Department has worked to educate riders on these requirements and is now citing motorized scooter riders for State Law violations, the City said.

Bird has also recently reduced the top speed of their scooters from 22 to 15 miles per hour and instituted a free helmet service for users.

It also marked its vehicles with key safety rules, more clearly spelled out safety rules on its App and improved its App security to help ensure that only those with a valid driver’s license can register to ride a scooter, the City said.

 


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