Play Free Bird

Electric scooters are cool. Really cool.

But scooter startups ignore the people who need them most.

Imagine you’re a kid living in Detroit. You live in a big housing complex just outside of downtown. Someone in a pickup truck just dropped off four futuristic looking scooters with flashing lights and bright colors on your corner. You don’t really know why someone dropped off these awesome toys so close to your house. You keep an eye on them. Some of them get ridden away by people after they hold their phone by them – and for some reason the scooters keep coming back the next day, all lined up. Nobody told you about these things.

Do you ride the scooter? Or do you leave them alone?

Here’s how the electric scooter thing works: people with means can unlock these scooters and ride them wherever they want as long as they have a smartphone credit card, a drivers license and the money to pay for it. If you want more info on how it works, they have an okay website.

On the surface, this is good old fashioned Silicon Valley fun: a new product, a low commitment way to try it and venture capital paying for the whole party. It’s great if you’re a well-off person with all of the required bits listed above, but what if you don’t have access to a credit card? Or a drivers license? Or you’re 8. You’re out of luck, bub. Same goes if you want to be a person who makes money charging these things, which they’ll pay you about $6 a piece to pick up, charge, and redeploy back into set spots in the neighborhoods.

I signed up to be a Charger for these electric scooter startups you see around town as a learning experience. What I learned was surprising, kinda funny and pretty darn sad:

When you sign up to be a Charger, they send you some power adapters to recharge the scooters and you get access to a map of all of the “dead” ones. Scooters that are closer to downtown and only recently discharged are worth about $5-8. Scooters that are further out from downtown or have been missing from the network for longer fetch a higher premium – up to $20 each. When I started out, I pursued these high value scooters to see what happened to them.

I noticed the high bounty scooters usually were in big housing complexes out in the neighborhoods. These sprawling places have lots of places for a scooter to be hiding. About a dozen times I experienced the same thing: I’d pull into the complex, look around for 20 minutes and come up empty handed and assumed people were holding the scooters in their houses.

One early evening, about 6:30PM, I went into a housing complex on the near east side. It was a large housing complex off of Forest in Midtown. I pulled around the corner into the entrance and noticed this huge group of kids all riding “dead” Bird and Lime scooters. When you move one of these scooters without paying, it tries to lock up the front wheel and starts shrieking some kind of musical tone. When the scooter has a dead battery, it can’t keep the wheel locked so it just becomes a normal push scooter and can’t update its location any longer to the map. The wheel lockup isn’t very strong so you can still push kick the scooter with a lot of effort even if it’s not dead yet.

The group of kids noticed the other Bird scooter sticking out of the back of my truck. A young kid riding a Bird, probably 9 or 10 years old, rode up to me and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was charging the scooters so I could put them back out onto the street. He said, “You can have this one.” and hopped off of it. I told him he could keep it if he wanted to, but he told me it was okay and that I should charge it. I checked it in with the app – it had been off the network for a few days – and went to put it in the truck. $15 reward. I showed him how the check-in process works on my phone as I confirmed pickup of the scooter by scanning a QR code. I told him I had to put it in my truck to bring him. This little dude grabbed the scooter and boosted it up into the back of the tall pickup truck all on his own. I said thanks and gave him a high five. He looked at me with a slightly worried look like I was taking his pet hamster to the hamster hospital – something sad but also something that had to be done.

As I was pulling away, I had about 12 kids all watching me take the scooter they had previously been playing with. I felt terrible about it. I realized in that moment that all of these “dead” scooters in people’s apartments were actually ones people had been hoarding as toys, probably for their kids or it was the kids themselves. These kids don’t have much. They were all taking turns on the dead scooters, having a ball on a warm summer night in the city. They still had the two Lime scooters to ride, shrieking and blinking as they were.

It struck me that it must really suck to be a Detroit kid in the summertime and see these cool looking scooters but you’re technically not allowed to touch them – so I want to do something about it.

We are going to obtain, assemble, charge and deliver at least 100 scooters with helmets to neighborhood kids in Detroit. No strings attached. But we need your help to do this.

UPDATES!

If you’d like to receive updates for this project, please sign up for our mailing list here. We promise to never spam you, it’s only real-deal project updates.

If you’ve donated money, you’re automatically enrolled. If you’ve sent us stuff directly to our address and are not receiving updates, sign up via the mailing list link.

Here’s how you can help:

1. Send us scooters and helmets directly via Internet.

This is our most preferred option because we can get the scooters directly shipped to our building for assembly, charging and then delivery. If you send a scooter PLEASE consider also sending a helmet — we can’t pass out the scooters without helmets. Send the packages to 1990 Bagley, Detroit MI 48216 addressed to The Detroit Bus Company.

With all donation levels we’re going to keep you in the loop via email and Facebook. We’ll try to get some photos, but we also want to respect the privacy of the kids we’re giving these to.

Preferred scooters and helmets:

For Younger Kids

For Young Adults

Larger Helmet

Kid Helmet

ALSO! You can send scooters from whatever retailer you like — we just suggest online because it’s the easiest. We tried to find a local retailer to buy through but it’s all big box stores.

2. Donate your good working scooters and helmets to us.

EDIT: We’ve received all of the scooters we can use right now! We may have a need in the future!

If you have a good working electric or manual scooter collecting dust in your garage, drop it by our building (1990 Bagley, Detroit MI 48216) between 9AM and 5PM Monday through Friday. If you can’t make that time, ask a cool friend to make it happen. If you have no friends and can’t make it, send us an email and we’ll stick around. And be your new friend ‘cuz you rule.

3. Donate money so we can buy scooters in bulk.

EDIT: Donations are closed right now! We’ve raised all the funds we need and we’re waiting on our bulk order of scooters. Thanks!

Bonus: Check out the reddit thread.

We can do some crazy powerful stuff if we get the message out to the world. If you’re a redditor and wanna check out the IAmA I have going, click the link. Upvotes help a lot but only do it if you actually wanna.

Probably Asked Questions:

Q: Why are y’all doing this?

A: We want to use the forces of good to set this injustice as right as we can. Scooters are awesome and Detroit’s kids should have access to the exact same experience as people with phones and funds. If anyone is going to be dropping off scooters throughout Detroit they should be accessible to everyone.

Supporting youth transit is also something we are really, really into.

Q. You’re going to check with their parents, right? You’re not just going to drop these scooters off with the kids?

A. We’re absolutely talking to parents first. We want to make sure the scooter is something the parents or guardians want in their family and household. It’s not our mission to increase chaos, only joy.

Q. Why don’t you just give the kids the money for the lost scooters?

A. We don’t believe that money is the answer here for a number of reasons. Mainly, the charging system doesn’t pay enough to support one good job let alone splitting up the funds. Volunteering to scoop, charge and redeploy the scooters might work for a little while but that will eventually come to an end. With our program we can give Detroit kids something they can enjoy over and over again.

Also, our program is based on the concept of a random act of kindness. We want to hook kids up with no strings attached in a surprising way and give them a positive memory they can take with them along with the ride.

Q: Aren’t the scooters just going to break or disappear?

A: We’re expecting a handful of scooters to get handed around or resold – that’s just the nature of an open-ended project like this. But for the 90% of kids that keep theirs and have a blast it’s totally worth it. Life is short, expect a little turbulence.

Q. How do you decide where to give the scooters out and to whom?

A. We’re going to start with the housing complex with the original kids from the story and then expand from there. We’re going to just drive around at first and look for groups of kids in complexes throughout Detroit who are playing outside. We’ll also work with churches and community centers to get their take and to help us find good recipients. It’s an imperfect system, but it will get us going.

Q: What if I’m a parent in Detroit and my kid wants a scooter?

A: PLEASE REACH OUT TO US! You can email us at help@thedetroitbus.com or call us at 313-444-2871. We can only give out as many scooters as we have, but a family that is excited to receive one is super great and we’d love to hook you up if we’re able.

Q: Can I send a note with my donation?

A. Absolutely. These awesome kids should know that somebody out there cares about them. If you want to email us a note to share with your donation we will make sure they receive it.

The Awesome Donor List

Stephen McGee! ($50)

Rob St. Mary! ($50)

Ruby! ($20)

Jeremy Mullins of L22! (3 Scooters)

Alex Linebrink! ($50)

Karen Dybis! ($20)

Joe Malcoun of Nutshell! ($500)

Anonymous! ($100)

Jacob Lewkow! ($50)

Travis Wright! ($20)

“Play Free Bird!”

Anonymous! ($100)

Anonymous! ($50)

“Have fun kids and fly free!”

Anthony Leo! ($50)

“Awesome idea!”

Anonymous! ($250)

Amanda J. ($20)

“Systemic injustice being corrected! Yay!”

Tony & Bev Fritz! ($100)

Caitlin Riney of George Gregory! (Scooters, helmets and Oreos)

Jamie Shea! ($100)

David Silver! ($10)

Dan Austin of Buildings of Detroit! ($75)

Detroit Howard! (5 Scooters, 3 Skateboards)

Anonymous! ($20)

“Detroit kids are the best kids.”

Wendy Williams! ($20)

Alan Hall! ($250)

“Thank you, Andy!”

Kristi Gnyp! ($20)

“The world needs more Andys.”

Jason Tester! ($50)

Anonymous! ($100)

“It ain’t a super cub, but it’ll have to do.”

Jason Turgeon! ($50)

Derek Werenka! ($100)

“Go Forth and Shred, Kids!”

ACP! ($100)

“I rode a Bird around Santa Monica this weekend with friends. It was awesome, like flying. Everyone should get to feel that. Wish I could give more. Maybe I can figure out how.”

Anonymous! ($100)

Rebecca Jeanfreau! ($20)

“I work with foster kids in the court system in New Orleans. I love projects like this! Some kids in this country hardly get to have childhoods. We need to fix that, together, and help them grow into strong, happy adults. Keep scootin’, kiddos, and thanks to all the volunteers working on this idea. Great job, y’all!”

Anonymous! ($10)

Jordan Epps! ($100)

“I love the grassroots nature of this project!”

Nick Garner! ($100)

“You. Are. A. Badass.”

Anonymous! ($5)

Nancy Yarbrough! ($20)

Charlie Wollborg! ($500)

“Free Bird is the Word.”

Paula Dickerson! ($100)

“Always wear a helmet!!”

Kevin McCoy! ($50)

Anonymous! ($100)

Julie Music! ($25)

“We call our scooter goes by Scoots Magoots. Scoot on friends!”

Anastasia Derbabian! ($50)

“for the love of childhood, random scrapes, and the feeling of wind in your hair. be safe out there! look both ways down the street!!!!”

Samuel S Ceckowski! ($50)

“Ride hard!”

James M Rios! ($250)

“Full circle.”

Anonymous! ($50)

Anonymous! ($25)

Kimberly A Seibel! ($25)

“Love this idea”

Kim L Hansz! ($1000)

“You’re Amazing!!! Have FUN!!!!”

Anonymous! ($50)

Anonymous! ($50)

Anonymous! ($100)

“Bc my kids have gone thru so many scooters.”

Anonymous! ($10)

Anonymous! ($50)

“Thank Steve Gaitens for bringing this to my attention!”

Lucy Cahill! ($10)

Charlie Wollborg! ($1000)

Ingo D Rautenberg! ($25)

A great cause and a great mobility option for kids!”

Jason Brown! ($100)

Managed TEDXDetroit PR and was moved by the story.”

Michelle Down! ($10)

David Silver! ($10.59)

Alanna St. Laurent! ($5.45)

Michelle and Chris Gerard! ($5.45)

Leanne Youngblood! (Helmets)

Katie Bruch! ($20.88)

Tenley Kellogg! ($50)

“We kids just want to have fun, and we learn from watching others. Maybe someone will learn from watching me and donate too!”

Ben Howard! ($10)

“Andy, I have been following your adventures since I first read about you on Jalopnik years ago. Keep being awesome.”

PLEASE NOTE:

If you’ve sent us scooters from Amazon, Target, JET or any other site, we have NO CLUE who are you. It doesn’t tell us. If you’d like to be added to this list, please email me your order to andy@detroitindie.com and I’ll get you added!

Raised So Far:

Scooters Donated:

7 electric scooters.

52 kick scooters.

3 skateboards?

Helmets Donated: 65 helmets.

Funds Donated: $6,402.37

Oreos Donated: 3,880 cookies.