The Last Mile

Bird hiring senior Canadian staff as scooter race comes north

Lime and Bird scooters, shown on the streets of Los Angeles, CA in November 2018, could be heading to Canada pending regulatory approvals. Shutterstock

Scooter company Bird is looking to expand to Canada, setting up meetings with senior government officials and hiring leadership-level staff, The Logic has learned.

The move comes less than six months after its rival, Lime, began lobbying provincial and city governments across the country in its own Canadian expansion effort, and operating pilot projects in Calgary and Waterloo, Ont.

The two companies are forging ahead with Ontario and Alberta plans, despite provincial laws banning scooters from public roads.

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Bird is hiring for three positions, including a general manager based in Toronto who will be “responsible for the growth and success of Bird.” The company is also currently looking for a senior buyer and senior logistics associate for Canada, but did not specify where the successful candidates would be based.

Bird lobbied City of Toronto officials just once in November, but 40 times in December, including six councillors, according to city records.

The company has also registered to lobby the Ontario and Alberta governments, and the City of Edmonton.

Talking Point

Scooter company Bird—which, at US$2 billion, is the highest-valued in North America—is hiring leadership-level staff and setting up meetings with senior government officials in Edmonton and Toronto, and with provincial governments in Ontario and Alberta. The company is trying to catch up to rival Lime, valued at US$1.1 billion, which is operating pilot projects in Waterloo and anCalgary and seeking to expand to Vancouver, Montreal, Victoria, Edmonton and Toronto.

Despite the increase in activity, Bird isn’t ready to make any expansion announcements.

“Bird doesn’t have any expansion plans to share at this time, but we believe Canada would be a great place to offer our affordable, environmentally friendly transportation option,” said Bird spokesperson Mackenzie Long.

The scooter company operates in more than 100 cities in the U.S., Europe and Israel. Worth US$2 billion, it’s currently the highest-valued scooter company in North America, with second-place Lime at US$1.1 billion. The Logic reported in November that Bird had registered to lobby in Toronto, Edmonton, Ontario and Alberta while Lime was eyeing a more ambitious Canadian expansion, having already hired two senior staffers in Toronto, and with job postings up for other high-level positions in Vancouver, Montreal, Victoria, and Edmonton.

Chris Schafer, Lime’s senior director for strategic development in Canada, said the company isn’t worried by a competitor entering the country. “If anything, a competitor looking at different Canadian cities is really indicative of what we at Lime know already,” he said, “which is that Canadians are embracing shared, clean, environmentally-friendly forms of transit.”

Schafer said as “we move towards 2019 and into the spring, we’re hopeful and looking to be available in more cities across Canada.” He said the company is in the “early stages” of conversations with multiple provinces and cities.

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Currently, Toronto appears to be Bird’s primary focus. The company has contacted senior members of the city’s transportation services division—including general manager Barbara Gray—and has reached out to six city councillors who have advocated for expanding the city’s bike lane network.

As first reported by The Toronto Star, the company also approached Mayor John Tory’s office in mid-December.

“Bird reached out to staff in the Mayor’s office and have requested a meeting,” confirmed Tory’s spokesperson Don Peat in an email to The Logic.

In cities where dockless bikes and e-scooter providers have shown up, controversy has followed. In several U.S. cities, they’ve popped up without regulations established to manage them, and have crowded public space as riders abandon them where convenient—in San Francisco, a sudden onslaught of around 2,000 e-scooters in March from Bird, Lime and Spin prompted the city to temporarily ban their use.

Mike Layton, one of Toronto’s city councillors whom Lime has reached out to, is concerned about vehicle storage.

“Where you have multiple operators of a bike rental program all operating in the same space, it just becomes … dangerous clutter,” he said. “There’s just not a lot of space in the public right-of-way to have random vehicles be parked without some sort of organization.”

In Edmonton, the company had an introductory meeting in mid-November with Bin Lau, strategic adviser to Mayor Don Iveson. Cheryl Oxford, Iveson’s media relations manager, said the office has not had any further communication with Bird since or “received any updates on their status yet.”

At the provincial level, Bird has, according to lobbying registration forms, expressed interest in learning how Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act and Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act, respectively, “[impact] last-mile electric vehicle sharing throughout the province.”

Bird has requested a meeting with ministry representatives, which will take place in the new year, according to Joshua Henry, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario. “The minister has not met with any representatives of Bird or Lime,” Henry said. “Staff in the Minister’s Office routinely meet with transportation stakeholders and have heard from representatives of both companies.”

Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act currently does not allow e-scooters on public roadways or sidewalks.

Kate Toogood, a spokesperson for the Alberta cabinet, told The Logic that neither Transportation Minister Brian Mason nor any members of his staff have met with Bird, but the company has met with staff from the transportation ministry.

Toogood said if municipalities want to trial new transportation methods like bike and scooter-share programs, they can apply to the ministry for review and approval. The City of Calgary, which has an ongoing pilot project with Lime’s e-bikes, has discussed potential exemptions Lime may need from provincial law with Mason’s office.

There is growing hype and money surrounding e-scooters. Bird and Lime raised US$300 million and US$335 million, respectively, in their latest funding rounds in the summer, and other smaller companies are also attracting investors. Most recently, Sweden’s VOI Technology netted US$50 million in its November Series A fundraising. The vice-president of global business development at Segway-Ninebot, the largest producer of e-scooters globally, told The Financial Times in December that the company had sold more than one million scooters that year, in comparison to 200,000 in 2017.