Electric Scooters: This Guy Juices Up Limes And Birds Each Night Bird and Lime offer electric scooters for rent in cities across America. The companies pay a few dollars a pop to an army of people who prowl the streets for the scooters and take them home to charge.
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Who Charges All Those Electric Scooters? Follow A Nocturnal 'Juicer'

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Who Charges All Those Electric Scooters? Follow A Nocturnal 'Juicer'

Who Charges All Those Electric Scooters? Follow A Nocturnal 'Juicer'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/701130673/702908804" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Walk through an American city, and there's an increasing chance you will need to maneuver around an electric scooter just parked there on the sidewalk. While driving, you pass people riding those scooters. They're for rent by the minute. They run on batteries, and those batteries are at the center of this story because somebody has to charge them. NPR's Camila Domonoske met a man who has a side hustle as he sleeps.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Joel Kirzner just finished watching the sunset from his 13th-floor office in Arlington, Va. His day job is over, but his evening gig is just beginning. He pulls out his phone and opens his scooter apps. People use these apps to ride scooters during the day. But it's night. Kirzner is hunting for scooters that need to be charged.

JOEL KIRZNER: It's like a "Pokemon Go," and you make money.

DOMONOSKE: He heads down to the parking garage and hops in his car, a burgundy Subaru Impreza.

KIRZNER: Yes. We have two scooters that are supposed to be right over there.

DOMONOSKE: The scooters are standing on a sidewalk just around the corner. Kirzner can make $4 on each. The amount varies based on how low the battery is or how long the scooter's been left there. He hops out, scans the scooters and puts them in the back of his compact hatchback.

KIRZNER: Now, remember, we just left my office building, and that took around 30 seconds. So that's $8 in a matter of one minute. So I think that's a pretty good deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOOR SHUTTING)

KIRZNER: All right. Next one.

DOMONOSKE: Kirzner is just getting started.

KIRZNER: There's another one right across the street. It's too easy tonight. This is perfect.

DOMONOSKE: Kirzner picks up electric scooters from two companies, Lime and Bird. Scooters are hot. These companies are both valued at billions of dollars, and they rely on gig economy workers like him to charge their scooters.

KIRZNER: And it should beep in five, four, three, two, one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCOOTER BEEPING)

KIRZNER: Beep.

DOMONOSKE: Some people charge a few scooters a night. Others charge dozens.

KIRZNER: All right. So that's three. So we have made $12.

DOMONOSKE: Back in the car, Kirzner puts on his go-to scooter-charging song.

KIRZNER: Let's go find our next Bird.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I NEED A DOLLAR")

ALOE BLACC: (Singing) I need a dollar, dollar. Dollar is what I need. Hey, hey.

DOMONOSKE: Kirzner says that over the last six months, he's made more than $9,000 at this side hustle. From the scooter company's perspective, Kirzner's not just charging scooters. He's also retrieving them from out-of-the-way locations, like one that's practically under a bush and hasn't been ridden in four days.

KIRZNER: They can drop them off wherever the heck they want to take 'em. You know? I mean, I've - it's right over there.

DOMONOSKE: The next morning, he'll put them in a better spot. Lime scooters are green, but the Birds are black. They beep and flash to help Kirzner find them in the dark. The electric scooters stack up in his hatchback. He's got a system for squeezing them in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCOOTERS BEING STACKED)

DOMONOSKE: His record is 14 in one load. Some nights, he does several runs.

KIRZNER: If I want to go crazy tonight, I can capture 30 Birds tonight. There's a ton of Birds right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN HONKING)

KIRZNER: Let's go, buddy.

DOMONOSKE: A few months ago, there was fierce competition to pick up these scooters. But it's cold and windy tonight, and the companies are paying less per scooter than they used to. So there aren't as many rivals to contend with. After collecting a dozen scooters and wrestling the last one into position...

KIRZNER: There we go.

DOMONOSKE: ...Kirzner heads home and starts to carry the scooters to his patio. He's 42, a consultant with a background in architecture. He's got a good job. He says his income is decent, but he's glad to have a side gig.

KIRZNER: I have expensive rent, expensive car payments, cable bills. You know? You know, they talk about the, like, you know, disappearing middle class. I feel like I'm in that zone where I can live fine, comfortably. But, you know, you want to have a little more financial stability, this definitely helps.

DOMONOSKE: He runs an extension cord from his kitchen to his patio to power up the scooters. His chargers are neatly organized.

KIRZNER: I feel like these Birds are almost my kids at this point. You know? And I've been taking care of them so much.

DOMONOSKE: The scooters will take a few hours to charge. Kirzner says the impact on his electric bill is negligible. Before 7 a.m. tomorrow, Kirzner will unplug his flock, load them back up and neatly place the charged-up scooters in spots preselected by Bird. And then he'll head to his day job, where his co-workers have a nickname for him. They call him the Bird Man. Camila Domonoske, NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I NEED A DOLLAR")

ALOE BLACC: (Singing) Hey, hey. Well, I need a dollar, dollar.

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