Former Uber and Lyft Exec Raises $15M For Tech Company Disrupting LA Transportation

Travis VanderZanden, who has been the VP of growth at Uber, and COO of its rival Lyft prior to that, has raised $15M for his own company, Bird, a ride-sharing service for small electric vehicles like scooters. So far, there are an estimated 1,000 “Birds” or participants in the dockless electric scooter system in Santa Monica, Ca. where it is based, reports TechCrunch.

VanderZanden was sued by Lyft (both sides later settling on undisclosed terms) when the company claimed his work with Uber violated a confidentiality agreement. He has now attracted the ire of Santa Monica mayor Ted Winterer by reaching out to him via LinkedIn only after Bird scooters were on the city street, reports the Washington Post.

The exchange was reported as VanderZanden offering to introduce Winterer to Bird’s “exciting new mobility strategy for Santa Monica.”  Winterer said he answered: “If you’re talking about those scooters that are out there already, there are some legal issues we have to discuss.”

VanderZanden’s own telling of the story, as per TechCrunch, suggests a different picture. He said that the “first week we put Birds out in the wild [in early September], I emailed the mayor directly about how excited we were and the impact we thought we could have.”

Along with this controversy, over the past six months, approximately 50,000 people have taken 250,000 rides, VanderZandenreports. The service is pushing into Westwood and San Diego as well.

Aside from Winterer’s “legal issues,” local police officers have dolled out 97 citations to Bird scooters, and the city’s fire department responded to eight accidents related to the service, some involving minors and adults. A senior marketing and communications for Santa Monica also referenced complaints about scooters being left in doorways, or on wheelchair ramps.

While he maintains that any new innovation must work with the regulatory, and cites “productive conversations,” about the venture. He said no permit system is in place for his model, but the city filed a criminal complaint citing Bird’s neglect to get the permit food vendors are asked to secure. A court date is set for next month.

Similar work to this includes the dockless bike-sharing company Spin, which announced an effort to start stationless electric scooter sharing last August. Similar sounding plans were announced by Spin’s competitor LimeBike as well.

“People are taking notice of how quickly Bird is growing and they want to pivot in and clone us,” said VanderZanden.

“Preventing car ownership is the goal of all these companies,” he said, in reference to cutting back on eco-harmful emissions. ” I think if all of us are successful, that’s fine.”