Earlier this month, Ocean Beach resident Amanda Johnson hopped on a Bird scooter she had ridden up to to her house on Newport Avenue. As she made her way back down the hill, she noticed a lot of traffic through the intersection of Ebers Street. She hit the brakes, attempting to slow down, only to realize they weren’t working.
“I had this moment of clarity where I knew I’d either go into traffic or try to somehow slow down or stop,” Johnson said.
In an effort to stop the scooter, Johnson put her foot down on the sidewalk, causing her and the device to flip. She skidded onto the ground and sustained injuries to her chin — which required seven stitches to fix — and knees, road rash to her chest and hands, and bruises all over her body.
“Luckily my neighbor was outside and saw the whole thing,” she said. "She guided me into her house and found my phone somewhere on the street. When I ended the ride, I gave it one star and wrote ‘I’m on my way to the emergency room, somebody cut my cables.”
Evidence of scooter tampering has occurred in Pacific Beach as well. Popular Instagram account @pacific.beach has shared multiple photos and videos of what they claim to be people cutting brake lines on scooters.
Bird would not comment specifically on the complaints of brake tampering, only saying: "Vandalism of any kind should not be accepted, full stop. Vandalism can include damage to local storefronts, broken windows of cars, and theft or destruction of e-scooters.
"At Bird, we have zero tolerance for vandalism and aggressively address it when it occurs in communities where we are meeting peoples’ needs for sustainable transportation options. We encourage everyone in these communities – whether they ride Bird or not – to report vandalism done to or with our vehicles as we are committed to acting swiftly and effectively. If you see something, report it to us at email@example.com. Bird investigates all reports of vandalism and takes appropriate measures, including working with law enforcement."
According to San Diego Police Department Lt. Shawn Takeuchi, other than Johnson’s incident, there have been no other vandalism reports filed regarding brake tampering for Bird, Lime or Lyft.
“Recently there have been some social media posts about individuals cutting brake lines,” Takeuchi said. “First and foremost, cutting brake lines is a crime. It’s either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the amount of damage that’s caused.
“There is a chance people are cutting brake lines because they are unhappy with scooters in their community,” Takeuchi said. “That is not a way to send a message. It’s absolutely a crime.”
This wasn’t the first time Johnson experienced scooter tampering. Not only had she witnessed people cutting the brake lines on Lime and Bird scooters, but she also rode a different Bird scooter months earlier that she realized had broken brakes. Luckily she had plenty of time to let the scooter slow down on its own before ending her ride.
“I’ve definitely seen people at the end of Newport Avenue tampering with scooters and even Lime bikes,” she said. “There’s all sorts of evidence of this all across Ocean Beach."
At the time of this writing, Johnson said Bird had only paid for the ride she had taken during the accident. She’s considering hiring a personal injury attorney and did file an incident report with police.
“With the brake cables, it’s only the older versions of these Birds that have them actually accessible,” Johnson said. “Newer versions don’t have the wires out there. Like they’re trying to take care of that, but they should probably take the ones with the wires off the streets because it’s becoming a pretty apparent issue."
Takeuchi said the reason he believes brake tampering hasn’t been reported is because with a crime of vandalism there has to be victim and a witness. SDPD encourages citizens who see brake tampering or other scooter vandalism going on to take photos and videos and call the police.
“Most importantly, [citizens] can’t just call and move on with their lives,” he said. “They have to remain there so an officer can talk to them. Because legally, if a misdemeanor is not committed in the officer’s presence, an officer can not make an arrest. It has to be a citizen’s arrest."
Now, citizen’s arrest doesn’t mean residents are expected to “go out and put handcuffs” on the person responsible. All it means is that they have to stay at the scene and sign a piece of paper attesting to the fact that they saw the crime occur and that they’re making the arrest.
“We need a citizen’s arrest by the witness so we can take the suspect into custody. In the event the suspect leaves, we definitely don’t want the witness to follow them or put themselves in danger. Instead we’ll take a report, document the crime, collect any video, photographs or evidence and do a follow-up investigation,” Takeuchi said.
While no scooter vandalism arrests have been made yet in San Diego, Johnson has a few choice words to the people who are cutting brake lines.
“You’re not doing anything to Bird, you’re just trying to kill me,” she said. “Thank you for nothing. Thank you for making no difference in this world. Thank you for becoming a bigger problem."