A guide to the valuable electronics inside Bird's illegal-in-San Francisco scooters

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/05/25/drinkbot-anyone.html


Or cover up the Bird stickers and have yourself a fine scooter.

However, not sure on the legal side of things. Just because there’s an order to remove off the streets, they are still property , no?


That’s what I was thinking. Just because someone abandons a car on the side of the road doesn’t mean it’s legal for someone else to come along and strip it for parts. At least, not in my state. Maybe that’s a thing in California.


Stealing scooters just because they are valuable doesn’t strike me as right or legal unless the company actually abandons them.


Bad idea has bad outcome; who knew?


Yes, they are still property, at least if they have something like contact/owner information (branding with a company name probably counts). There might be other relevant laws even if there’s no clue as to the owner, perhaps based on value, but some searching found California Penal Code section 485:

One who finds lost property under circumstances which give him knowledge of or means of inquiry as to the true owner, and who appropriates such property to his own use, or to the use of another person not entitled thereto, without first making reasonable and just efforts to find the owner and to restore the property to him, is guilty of theft.

Best thing to do, legally speaking, is report the abandoned scooter’s location to the police, or whoever is dealing with their impound (perhaps SFMTA?), since that’s what the city is planning to do; from the article:

Any scooters left on the street will be impounded, and could also result in daily fines of $100 per scooter.


It may still not be legal to steal them, but I have a hunch that you’ll soon be able to pick one up pretty cheap at either a city auction of impounded property or a bankruptcy sale.


Unregulated capitalism at its finest, isn’t that great ?
And really reminiscent of the broken bike mountains in China.


A good firmware hack could save someone living elsewhere about $100.

Actually, for $100 I might go to the office a bit more with one of these things.

I’m glad San Francisco is working to preserve the commons, and their permit trial seems a reasonable balance between the convenience of dockless scooter sharing rental and the convenience of other users of city infrastructure.
More info: https://www.sfmta.com/blog/new-permit-and-pilot-program-san-franciscos-scooters

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Just 50 miles south of SF is another city, San Jose, and they are using scooters without complaint or draconian regulation.

San Jose DoT admits they don’t have any regulation framework around these bike and scooter on-the-spot rental programs. And I won’t be surprised they the city starts charging for illegal dumping fees if the scooters start piling up at the light rail platforms. But so far there isn’t much going on in the city council to create a permit system for these.

(San Jose’s population is about 2x of SF. but its downtown area is a tiny fraction of the size. and the public transportation options in San Jose are vastly inferior. So it’s a city with a very different set of problems)

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My guesstimate is half of the cost of the scooters is in the 30 or so 18650 type lithium-ion cells, which are popular for flashlights and USB battery packs. Probably worth $5 each.

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Posts like this are at least a small part of why we can’t have nice things. The post doesn’t distinguish between scooters that are within the San Francisco permit process or outside of it in the sense that it just says that scooters have valuable stuff in them and that you should steal them for some sort of questionable pro-commons vigilante justice, as if they are opressing people. The same “logic” applies to all the shared bike systems in San Francisco as well as the other scooter systems.

While I do think VC-fuelled shared transportation systems can cause gluts like in China I don’t think this kind of vigilante “steal it because it’s got good stuff” call to action is ethical or desirable.

What’s next? A call to steal the tires, air bags and everything from the trunks of cars parked at expired meters?


I eagerly await someone’s teardown of all the valuable parts available in the millions of cars parked on city streets (many of them parked illegally, and therefore abandoned trash!).

Seriously, I get that these are annoying, but the “evil commons destroying technocrat late stage capitalism illegal trash” angle is pretty heavily overblown. Its annoying that we can’t have any forms of alternative transportation because we aren’t willing to devote even a few m^2 to them while our streets are lined with parked cars.


Almost OT, but I’ve been wondering how they were getting charged? Did Bird run around and swap them at 25% charge or something? Track them down by the last known GPS signal? Have battery-swap stations at collection points? Have the user do it as a condition of rental with a hefty surcharge if they don’t? :thinking:

LimeBike posted ads looking to pay people to collect scooters, charge them overnight and then put them back out.


A lot of people don’t like the tone of this post.

I don’t think Cory expects all those scooters to be disappeared. I think the post is more about the schadenfreude of a “move fast and break things”-company possibly being on the receiving end of some people moving fast and breaking (their) things (apart into smaller thing with arguably more value to society).

I don’t see this happen either way. However I do think that stealing from a scummy company backed by VC money is ethically totally different from stealing parts from a car owned by a person. And if one of those scooters is forgotten and I’d stumble upon it I may just not mention where I got all those nifty parts.


Not really. I’ve seen the occasional scooter lying on its side, or by some stretch being in the way, but the vast majority have been parked off to the side. Hardly anything like those “bike mountains of Beijing” that all the city planners seem to be afraid of.

Those scooters were damn useful for going short distances and I really hope SF gives them a permit to operate, and that the process is much more transparent than whatever shinanigans got Jump Bikes (now Uber) awarded a permit and not the 5 other bike companies that were trying too:


Not to mention Teslas! Their battery packs consist of 7000 or so of those batteries, and now their slightly larger cousins.

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Used micro controllers will have a burned in ROM and can not be re-used.