TOPEKA (KSNT) – There are several changes coming to the new Bird electric scooters in Topeka after they were used for vulgar graffiti.
A representative for Bird met Tuesday with the Topeka City Council. While discussing ways to stop the graffiti during the meeting, the council confirmed that a series of penis drawings made with skid marks from Bird scooter tires have appeared in Topeka.
“So we’re going to put decals on the ground so that they don’t draw penises on the sidewalk?” asked Councilman Mike Lesser.
Listen along to the city council discussion on the graffiti and changes to the scooters below:
The easy-to-rent electric scooters, which cost $1 to start, first came to the capital city April 1. They immediately came with some problems like some scooters going missing within their first week, and some speculation on if riders were violating local traffic laws.
Bird Government Partnership Manager Adam Davis said some hiccups are common when the Bird scooters first arrive in any town.
“This is pretty normal anytime you launch in a new city,” Davis said. “People get excited, they don’t really have the rider habits that we would like, and so we’re continually monitoring that…”
However, he also later told reporters that the vulgar penis drawings in Topeka were appearing at levels Bird hadn’t seen in other cities. Davis proposed new measures to stop the graffiti, like using geofencing to create zones where all Bird scooters shut down if they enter certain areas at certain times.
During the meeting, Davis said that any location identified as a “High Skid Mark Area,” where the skid mark penis drawings were most prevalent, will slow the scooters to a full stop any time they enter that area. Another zone like downtown Topeka will let the scooters keep moving but slow them down to 10 miles per hour. At 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, all scooters in that downtown zone will come to a full stop.
Davis also said Bird could add incentives like credits for the next ride if riders park the scooters in a proper location. Another new feature will require people to scan their I.D. to ride, to prove they are 18 or older.
If bad behavior on the scooters continues, Bird may also send the rider a penalty message in the Bird app. For a “serious infraction,” like the penis graffiti, Bird could ban the rider’s account.
“Hopefully we can solve that through suspension,” Davis said. “…I’ll ban everybody if it takes, uh, getting the behavior to stop in the downtown area.”
Perpetrators could face charges, as the Bird representative also said he was working on finding all of the problem areas where the graffiti was appearing.
“I stopped by Topeka Police Department today, and with the help of Mr. Smith, he shared a variety of photos, and we identified the street corners that they were at,” Davis said. “So, we shared them and then the dates that the drawings took place. In the event that the police department would like to investigate, they have the location, they have the timeframe, and then if they were to issue a subpoena to us… then we would turn over the rider information to be able to do an investigation.”
The council expressed interest in taking action against the vandals, because people were now having to work to clean the penis drawings up.
“The downtown people have figured out how to clean it without damaging our sidewalks, but Bird has offered to pay for it until we get this under control,” Councilwoman Karen Hiller said. “But nonetheless it can take two or three treatments, it takes hot water, it takes real people with high power washers to work on it.”
One problem Bird won’t be able to fix for the time being is getting new tires that won’t leave behind marks on sidewalks. Lesser questioned Davis on why Bird could not change out the tires on the existing scooters. He initially said a shortage of supplies was to blame, but later told the council it was a money issue.
“Just the cost associated with putting different tires on, it just makes more sense for us to be able to put that cost towards bringing new scooters in,” Davis said.
While the Bird scooters have been in Topeka for around two months, the council indicated they were ready to pull the plug if the problems continued.
“We’re either going to get this fixed or they’re going to go away,” Lesser said.