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Cambridge and Somerville say Bird scooters aren’t welcome without permits

A pedestrian walked between two Bird dockless scooters in Los Angeles.
A pedestrian walked between two Bird dockless scooters in Los Angeles.(Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

It looks like Bird has ruffled some feathers.

Cambridge officials said Tuesday that Bird — the electric scooter rental company that arrived unannounced in late July — should take its scooters off the city’s streets, at least until the proper permits are obtained.

“In the immediate short-term, we’ve asked them to remove scooters from the sidewalks,” said Joe Barr, Cambridge’s director of traffic, parking, and transportation. “We want to figure out a way to get them legal, so they can do this in a way that’s more organized.”

Cambridge delivered the news to Bird during a meeting between city officials and company executives Monday morning. As of Tuesday, however, Bird scooters were still available to users on streets around Cambridge, according to the company’s app.

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Barr said the city is prepared to send out Department of Public Works crews to scoop up the Birds if the company doesn’t comply. Either that, or the city could take legal action by getting an injunction, he said.

“We are taking a wait-and-see approach,” said Barr. “But I think we don’t want this to be an empty threat. . . . It could be legal recourse, or it could be removing all of the scooters altogether.”

Barr said that during Monday’s meeting Bird representatives didn’t “agree with the legal perspective” the city had, and claimed the company isn’t breaking any laws.

But Barr said in order to operate legally in Cambridge, the company first needs to apply for a “Display of Merchandise” permit, which would be granted by the City Council. The council doesn’t meet again until September.

“Most of [the meeting] was very congenial,’’ said Barr. “From a policy standpoint, and what we’re trying to accomplish, from that perspective, we are well aligned. But we hope they think about this more, and look at what we are saying in terms of requirements, and take a pause and remove them right away.”

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When contacted by the Globe, Bird officials did not say whether they would remove scooters. Instead, the company said in a statement it has been “having productive conversations with local leaders, and [looks] forward to continuing those conversations.”

Monday’s meeting came after City Manager Louis DePasquale last week sent a letter to Ashwini Chhabra, Bird’s global head of central policy.

DePasquale wanted to sit down with company representatives to “explore whether and how Bird might operate” in Cambridge legally.

While the city has remained open to welcoming Bird to the community, DePasquale said officials “will not permit Bird’s electric scooters to be parked and used on City-owned streets, sidewalks, and other public property without all required authorizations and permissions having first been obtained.”

The dockless scooter company showed up unexpectedly July 20 in both Somerville and Cambridge, launching its fleet completely under the radar. Other cities have also been surprised by the arrival of Bird.

Barr said the city would like to discuss rolling out Bird as a pilot project, but reiterated the proper legal steps need to be taken first. Until then, the company has been put on notice.

“We’re not just going to let them do this without taking any action, but it’s not 100 percent clear — we haven’t decided yet what that action is going to be,” he said. “The fact that they are back on the streets this morning tells me they are moving forward without sort of listening to what we told them.”

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Somerville on Tuesday also made the decision to take action against the scooters.

City spokeswoman Jackie Rossetti said officials sent the California-based company a formal “cease and desist” letter, which cited Bird’s lack of a license “or any other authorization” to operate on the streets.

The letter, dated July 31 and signed by the city solicitor, warned Bird that it has 48 hours to clear out the scooters.

“They may not be deployed again in Somerville until . . . Bird has complied with the requirements of the . . . Code of Ordinances,” the letter read. “Any scooter found within the City limits on or after August 3, 2018 will be confiscated.”

Rossetti said in a statement that Somerville officials will “be working on a policy and procurement framework” to invite formal proposals from potential scooter vendors that hope to operate there.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.