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Faced with scooter seizures, Bird pays property tax bill months late

Scooters from Bird and other companies lined up along South Congress Avenue
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Bird operates some 4,500 scooters in Austin alongside other micromobility companies like Lime, LINK and Wheels.

After Travis County's top tax collector warned he would start seizing Bird scooters to recoup unpaid property taxes, the California-based company rushed to pay its outstanding bill in full.

Bird, which rents out dockless electric scooters around Austin, had been listed among the top 10 delinquent property tax payers in Travis County for 2021. The company owed $147,195 — which was the seventh-highest unpaid bill this year, according to the county's tax office.

Tax bills went out in November 2021. The deadline to pay was Jan. 31. With additional penalties and interest, Bird owed about $149,000.

Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant says Bird hadn't been returning phone calls. His office was filing a lawsuit to seize the company's scooters and sell them off to recoup the unpaid bill.

"I don't know if we can seize $149,000 worth of scooters, so this is uncharted territory for us," Elfant told KUT before the bill had been paid.

Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant in his office
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant said he was prepared to seize Bird's scooters and auction them off on the steps of the county courthouse to recoup the company's unpaid property taxes.

Bird told KUT by email Tuesday that the company was working to resolve the outstanding payment but offered no details.

Bird owed Travis County taxes not on real estate but on the scooters themselves and other property used to run the fleet in Austin.

"Businesses get taxed on their personal property, so this would be considered personal property of theirs," said Karol A. Griffiths, a certified public accountant with the law firm Blazier, Christensen, Browder and Virr, P.C.

Bird owns $5,984,402 in personal property in Travis County, according to tax records. The company is authorized to deploy up to 4,500 scooters in Austin, making it the city's second-largest micromobility operator after Lime, which is licensed to operate up to 5,850 scooters and 500 bicycles.

Austin's Transportation Department says Bird is in compliance with the department's regulations and licensing processes.

Bird — which has fleets of shared micromobility devices in more than 400 cities around the world — reported last month $10.4 million in quarterly profit, a sharp turn in fortunes. The same quarter last year, Bird had a net loss of $76.2 million.

It's unclear how many scooters Travis County would have had to sell to recoup $149,000. A Bird scooter from Best Buy retails for $599. But a scooter pulled off the street and auctioned on the courthouse steps would have to be modified for personal use.

A Best Buy listing for a Bird scooter priced at $599
Best Buy
Best Buy sells personal Bird scooters for $599, but a shared scooter auctioned off by the county would have to be modified for private use.

Converting a shared scooter for private ownership requires some technical know-how and parts, but the instructions are easy to find online.

Travis County's tax office has collected about 99% of 2021 property taxes, but some $67 million is still outstanding.

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Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at nbernier@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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