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Bird scooters

Bird debuted its fleet of electric scooters for rent in downtown St. Louis on July 19, 2018. Photo by Lisa Brown of the Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS • Dozens of Bird electric scooters that popped up on downtown sidewalks Thursday are going to vanish just as suddenly, at least until next week.

The scooters were placed for the rental startup’s local launch, but St. Louis officials said the business was operating without a required permit and asked the company to remove the vehicles.

By Thursday evening, Bird Rides Inc. agreed to pull the scooters off the city’s streets and walkways.

“In partnership with the city of St. Louis, we have agreed to remove all Birds from the city until scooters are added to the city’s dockless vehicle program next week,” a company statement said.

Bird offers scooters with motors for rent in nearly 20 markets already, and has drawn controversy elsewhere. Since launching in Milwaukee last month, for example, that city notified Bird that the scooters are illegal to use on its sidewalks and streets, yet the business continues to operate there.

In St. Louis on Thursday, the dockless scooters were briefly available in downtown, Fairground Park, Old North, O’Fallon Park and Soulard neighborhoods. The startup said more neighborhoods are expected to be added based on demand.

The business immediately drew the attention of city officials. Koran Addo, a spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, said the company launched without the needed permit .

“We are in favor of these dockless programs, but this company did not go about it in the right way,” Addo said. “They absolutely came in and started operating without a permit. They didn’t even reach out to the city until (Thursday) morning.”

Addo said the city’s regulations regarding bike-sharing services were recently updated to include scooters, though the final wording of the updated policy will be voted on next week.

Bird scooters can be booked using an app and cost $1 to start a ride plus 15 cents per minute thereafter. The scooters can reach speeds of 15 mph and remain charged for 15 miles. Users who return the scooters to private property, gated areas or other unreachable locations can be charged a $120 pickup fee.

The service is similar to the business model of Lime, the California-based bike-sharing platform (formerly LimeBike) that since April has offered bikes for rent in the city of St. Louis. Lime added bikes for rent in Clayton and Ferguson, and also operates an electric scooter rental service in some markets, though not yet in St. Louis.

“We are happy to be working with the city on their dock-free mobility program, and we look forward to coordinating with the city on new smart mobility options for St. Louis,” a Lime spokeswoman said.

Competition in the mobility industry remains fierce. What was once a battle between on-road transportation companies such as Uber and Lyft now includes docked and dockless bike-share and scooter startups.

Bird, which has enjoyed a stratospheric rise in cities such as San Francisco, in June raised $300 million from Silicon Valley investors including Sequoia Capital. Bird raised $15 million from investors in February and another $100 million round in March.

Meanwhile, less than a year after China’s Ofo entered the U.S. with big ambitions, including a launch in St. Louis, the world’s largest bike-share company plans to shut down most of its U.S. operations, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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