Two Wheels

Side-hustlers make money charging and dropping off Bird and Lime scooters

Think of it as catch and release

Just a couple short years ago, the phenomenon that was Pokemon Go had people wandering the streets, heads buried in smartphones, trying to catch them all. That trend has drastically quieted down, but there's a new reason people are using their devices as treasure maps: electric scooter hunting. Companies such as Lime and Bird offer compensation for overnight charging, which has created a niche, but potentially fruitful, business opportunity.

Recently spotlighted on CNBC's "Make It" series, electric scooter charging takes a fair amount of time and effort, but if the motivation is there, it can bring in some cash. For Bird and Lime, it's a crucial part of their business plans, as the scooters have no docks. Unlike many public bicycle services, the scooters can be used and discarded wherever, and whenever. So, it's up to the public to keep them charged and back on the streets.

This process is possible because each scooter has a built-in tracking system. In the same way people use the app to locate the scooters for use, scooter energizers use the app to locate and pick up the scooters. According to a Bird customer service representative, the company prefers the scooters be picked up after midnight, when the devices can no longer be used for service.

After several hours of charging, Bird suggests the scooters be returned to the wild somewhere around 4 a.m. to 5 a.m., so that the scooters are in place and ready for the morning commuters. Bird creates designated "nests" where the scooters should be dropped off. If people pick up scooters too early, drop them off too late, or drop them off in unspecified areas, Bird has the tracking capabilities to notice and could potentially penalize those offenders.

Once a person signs up for the service, Bird will directly send wall chargers to use. If the person does well, they can request additional chargers. Each scooter that is picked up will return anywhere from $3-10, as the pricing depends heavily on location. If the scooter is way out of range or in a place it's not supposed to be, those earn more money. If it's a simple pickup, that scooter will likely earn less money.

Possibly the best part of this crowdsourced method is that Bird pays people out every single morning. Through the app, Bird will register the number of scooters collected, determine each scooter's value, and directly deposit money into a person's account.

As a side gig that can be done during irregular off-hours, it's a simple way to earn some cash. But driving around at night, searching for scooters in alleys or bushes, wasting gas, all to drop them off at 5 a.m., sounds like doing a lot. Then again, people do much worse for less money. Like Uber drivers.

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