It’s interesting to observe the tech world from the outside. When I was recently in Los Angeles for a conference, I saw a bunch of Bird scooters in the Santa Monica area. From their website:

We work closely with cities to help make transportation better & more environmentally friendly. Cities can report any issues to our city relations team & we're happy to quickly address them.

This is actually an idea I rather like. It makes sense to have little scooters to get around, plus scooters are fun to ride. What’s not to like?

Of course, like with other start-ups, Bird seems to have neglected to pursue any real attempts at operating above-board (emphasis mine).

Black, electric-powered scooters suddenly began appearing on the downtown streets, suburban sidewalks and beachside a few months ago in this urban coastal city.

The dockless shared scooters took Santa Monica by surprise, including the mayor, who says he received a LinkedIn message from Bird chief executive Travis VanderZanden, offering to introduce him to the company’s “exciting new mobility strategy for Santa Monica” — after they landed in town.

“If you’re talking about those scooters that are out there already, there are some legal issues we have to discuss,” Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer said he told VanderZanden.

And to reinforce the point, the city filed a criminal complaint of nine counts centered on Bird’s failure to obtain a vendor permit, something the company maintains is applicable to food vendors, not dockless shared electric scooters.

The start-up world has taken facebook’s “move fast and break things” philosophy and run with it. In some ways, it’s a riff on the sometimes great but oft-overused “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission”.

The problem, in this case, is that there’s safety implications (the WP story linked above notes multiple traffic and safety violations, and injuries including traumatic brain injury and broken bones). Without vendor permits, how do you maintain liability? In their zeal for hockey stick growth curves and monetization, start-ups assume (correctly) that following proper protocol will cost money and time. I won’t argue that our current regulatory system is slow and filled with red-tape. But understanding why the red tape is key, and approaching the goal with an interest in safety should never be a bad thing.

I like the idea of having small scooters as means to get around. It seems like a great way complement existing public transit and helping to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. With quality of life, environmental impact, and safety being considered, I don’t see how that could possibly be turned down. It would be well worth the time and effort to make that happen. Working backwards like this is counterproductive.