Bird — one of the companies participating in the borough’s e-scooter pilot — is now utilizing Google technology to up the enforcement on improperly parked scooters.
The two-part, two-year pilot, which was implemented by the City Council in June 2020, brought up to 3,000 e-scooters to the northeast Bronx in August 2021 and will bring as many as an additional 3,000 to the southeast Bronx this summer. The scooters are provided by three companies participating in the pilot: Lime, Bird and Veo.
The scooters are allowed to be parked along the curb in much of the pilot area, but in certain areas, they are required to be parked in designed corrals, which are painted areas on the sidewalk or in street parking spots.
According to Bird, parking is the e-scooter industry’s No. 1 challenge. And many Bronxites wouldn’t disagree, with improper parking a notorious concern about the micro-mobility program.
In September 2021, just a month after the pilot launched, Department of Transportation (DOT) spokesperson Alana Morales told the Bronx Times that the most common complaints about the program were improperly parked devices.
In a Sept. 24, 2021 letter to former DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman, former east Bronx Councilmember Mark Gjonaj wrote: “Complaints of e-scooters have been seen strewn across streets, walkways, and sidewalks—impeding traffic and pedestrians alike. Additionally, some constituents have reported that parked e-scooters have fallen and hit their cars from sidewalks. ‘Dumping ground’ is a phrase we have heard quite a bit.”
At an April 13 Community Board 10 meeting this year — the board’s district will be part of phase two — DOT Director of Policy and Dockless Programs Lily Gordon-Koven said there was a learning curve for users to figure out where it’s acceptable to park the devices. She said that while the devices have GPS technology, it hasn’t been as specific as some want it to be. At the meeting, a Veo representative said the company utilizes a “24-7 man power machine,” circling the pilot area and rebalancing devices.
Each scooter is labeled with an identification number that anyone can report to the respective company, and companies are required to relocate improperly parked scooters as part of the pilot. Morales said in September that part of DOT’s review of the program will be assessing parking behavior and how well issues are met.
Google’s ARCore Geospatial API was announced just last week at the company’s I/O conference, and Bird received early access to the tech, which led to the creation of Bird VPS — now being used in the Bronx, San Francisco and San Diego — which uses 3D scanning, augmented reality technology and Google Maps’ Street View data to better pinpoint where scooters are being left.
When riders complete their trips they will be prompted to quickly scan the area around them using their smartphone’s camera and the Bird app will compare the view to Google data.
The customer will be allowed to complete the ride if the parking spot complies with local rules.
While other parking technologies could detect whether a scooter is parked within or near a parking corral, the device locations can now be pinned down to the centimeter level, Bird spokesperson Lily Gordon told the Bronx Times. Various types of improper scooter parking, like devices left in the middle of the sidewalk, outside designated corrals or blocking driveways can be picked up by this tech because of the precise geolocation, she confirmed.
Google advertises the technology as a way to blend the digital space with the real, concrete world, allowing phones to recognize their environment through their cameras with motion tracking and an understanding of different surfaces and lighting conditions. It can be used for directions, gaming and artistic expression.
Justin Balthrop, chief technology officer at Bird, said in a press release that the technology is “an absolute game-changer for micromobility that allows us to offer cities a first-of-its-kind Visual Parking System that’s unmatched in terms of accuracy and scalability.”
In a statement to the Bronx Times, DOT spokesperson Vincent Barone said riders have by and large followed parking rules as part of the pilot.
“We appreciate the private sector’s efforts to continuously improve the rider experience and look forward to our June pilot expansion,” he added.
Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes