Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Dockless Scooters Are Illegal

City Attorney's office warns owner to cease operations on city streets, riders could face $98 fine.

By - Jun 28th, 2018 11:19 am
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Bird scooter in Milwaukee. Photo by Alison Peterson.

Bird scooter in Milwaukee. Photo by Alison Peterson.

You might want to think twice before taking one of the new electric scooters for a ride to Summerfest.

The City Attorney’s office has rendered an opinion that riders of the dockless, electric scooters unveiled yesterday in Milwaukee by a California-based company are violating state law when riding on city streets or sidewalks. Riders could be subject to a nearly $100 fine, and the City Attorney’s office has informed Bird, the California company, that it is aiding and abetting the violation of state and local law.

The legal opinion from Assistant City Attorney Adam Stephens:

“The public should be aware that BIRD’s Motorized Scooters may NOT be lawfully operated on any public street or sidewalk in the City of Milwaukee, per current state statute.

Whether defined as a vehicle (Wis. Stat. Sec. 340.01(35)), motor vehicle (Wis. Stat. Sec. 340.01(35)) or a play vehicle (Wis. Stat. Sec. 340.01(43m)), under no circumstances may motorized scooters operate on a public street because they are not designed for on-street use.  If motorized scooters were designed for on-street use, they would be subject to federal safety standards and manufacturer certifications. Further, regulations pertaining to operation of motor vehicles apply equally on sidewalks and streets as both are part of the public highway right-of-way.

Consequently, any operator of a BIRD motor scooter on a City street or sidewalk is subject to a $98.80 citation for Operating an Unregistered Motor Vehicle upon a Highway contrary to Wis. Stat. Sec. 341.04(1).”

As of Wednesday evening, the city has no plans to remove the scooters themselves. Stephens wrote to other city officials

“Other than potentially seizing the scooters as evidence for an operation violation, I know of no legal authority to simply collect and seize the scooters simply for being in the public way. The evidence we have suggests they are not “abandoned.” Even if the city did seize them, would we refuse to give them back when the collectors came for them at a DPW warehouse? (They are GPS linked).They can be moved (I checked) if they are blocking the sidewalk or are placed in a spot they shouldn’t be in (like next to a fire hydrant or private property), so that wouldn’t justify a Fourth Amendment seizure.”

The company deployed approximately 60 scooters yesterday, primarily in the Historic Third Ward. The scooters, which can be unlocked using a smartphone for $1.00 plus 15 cents per minute, are intended for short trips around urban areas. To use the scooters, the Bird app can be found in both Android and iOs in the app stores.

The scooters have a governed maximum speed of 15 miles per hour, but in other markets the scooters were previously capable of 22 miles per hour.

Unlike dock-based systems like Bublr Bikes, the scooters can simply be left wherever the ride ends. The company contracts with individuals to pick up the scooters every night to be charged.

Bird does offer a “Save our Sidewalks” pledge that says the company will collaborate with city officials wherever they deploy scooters, including revenue sharing, but no such agreement was in place when the company dropped off its scooters. Alderman Robert Bauman, who chairs the Public Works Committee, told Urban Milwaukee he supports the city taking possession of the scooters if they’re found to be in violation of city ordinances.

Bird’s competitor Limebike, which provides both dockless bicycles and electric scooters, has been meeting with city officials to create a regulatory framework before deploying their equipment on city streets.

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7 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Dockless Scooters Are Illegal”

  1. Tweed says:

    Rules are rules. Seems that the company put the cart before the horse(is that legal though?).

  2. MidnightSon says:

    Yup, pretty typical move for a “disrupter” whose platform is the public space.

    In San Francisco, these companies are now required to file for permits. Requirements include “plans to keep sidewalks clear of scooters, to protect riders’ privacy, to provide insurance coverage, to offer access for low-income riders, and to share trip data with the transportation agency.”

    https://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Bye-bye-SF-scooters-as-Bird-Lime-and-Spin-go-on-12966874.php

  3. Chris Larkee says:

    They’re not illegal, it’s just that there’s not a clear category to put them in. With that 15mph speed limit, I think the intent is to fall into the category of a “Electric personal assistive mobility device”, as defined in Wis. Stat. Sec. 341.01(15pm). Therefore, they can be operated on sidewalks (Wis. Stat. Sec. 346.805) and bike lanes (Wis. Stat. Sec. 346.803) without registration (Wis. Stat. Sec. 341.058), with a maximum fine of $20 for violating rules of the road (Wis. Stat. Sec. 346.82).

    If you do get stopped, just make sure Adam Stephens isn’t your attorney.

  4. Jeremy Edson says:

    @Chris Larkee

    Wisconsin 341.01(15pm) defines “Electric personal assistive mobility device” as “self-balancing, 2-nontandem-wheeled device that is designed to transport only one person and that has an electric propulsion system that limits the maximum speed of the device to 15 miles per hour or less.” The scooters do not meet the self-balancing and nontandem stipulations. There have been several attempts to redefine, but those were years ago and did not gain any traction.

    I am all for changing the definition to make the scooters legal, but as of right now they are illegal.

  5. LenaTaylorNeedsToResign says:

    The good news for the MPD is that if a chase becomes necessary, it’ll be a very, very low-speed one.

  6. Rita says:

    So I guess walking is becoming even more rare….

  7. Comfy Chair says:

    Chris Larkee, I wouldn’t want YOU to be my attorney, that’s for sure….

    “Under no circumstances may motorized scooters operate on a public street because they are not designed for on-street use. If motorized scooters were designed for on-street use, they would be subject to federal safety standards and manufacturer certifications. Further, regulations pertaining to operation of motor vehicles apply equally on sidewalks and streets as both are part of the public highway right-of-way.”

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