City councilman calls for revision of agreement with Bird scooters

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COLUMBIA - City officials granted Bird a contract to operate in Columbia upwards of five months ago, but the company is struggling to keep one of it's promises: to ensure that scooters aren't left in places that create accessibility barriers.

"The biggest complaint is that the scooters are parked on the path of travel and in the middle of the sidewalk," said Michael Edwards, the Missouri Coordinator at the Great Plains ADA office. "For someone using a wheelchair it's very hard for them to go around and try to move that."

Monday's disability forum saw municipal candidates come together to tackle problems impacting the everyday lives of members of the disabled community.

Candidates largely agreed the community needed to do more to reduce the barriers for people with disabilities. 

"When it comes to some of these disability issues, I don't think you're going to find a lot of space between the candidates," said Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala. 

One of those barriers are Bird scooters.

In late 2018, KOMU 8 reported on Bird's impact on the disability community. During that period, Bird announced a new "Bird Watcher" program aimed at ensuring all misplaced or fallen scooters blocking sidewalks are moved within two hours.

Edwards called the program a good first step, but said it wasn't enough.

"I mean if you were trying to get down a sidewalk and you had to wait two hours for someone to get a scooter out of your way, you wouldn't be too happy about that," he said.

He says a solution to this problem could be as simple as creating parking spaces for them.

"Having a designated spot to park those in several locations around town would be a lot better than just having them anywhere on the sidewalks," Edwards said.

Councilman Skala said moving forward the city needs to search for better, more accessible ways to incorporate Bird into the community.

"I will ask for a more thorough investigation, or at least research, of what other communities are doing, have done, what has worked, what hasn't worked and how we can improve [Bird's contract] going forward," he said.

Though he added the responsibility doesn't lie solely with Columbia's leaders.

"I would like to see a bit more response," Skala said "I'm not necessarily blaming the company. I don't know if this is their fault or this is just users who we have very little control over."

However, he does think more can be done.

"I'm not convinced just having a Bird watchers program is sufficiently responsive to correct some of these issues."

KOMU 8 reached out to Bird for comment, but has not heard back.