Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

City Sues Scooter Operator Bird

First courthouse showdown is scheduled for Friday the 13th.

By - Jul 9th, 2018 02:08 pm
Three of Bird's scooters were parking on N. Milwaukee St. on the morning of July 9th, 2018. Photo by Dave Reid.

Three of Bird’s scooters were parking on N. Milwaukee St. on the morning of July 9th, 2018. Photo by Dave Reid.

The City of Milwaukee isn’t happy with the actions of private, dockless electric scooter provider Bird.

The California-based company dropped off approximately 100 scooters on city streets in late June just before Summerfest. The independently-elected City Attorney quickly wrote a legal opinion that the scooters violate state law when operated on a public sidewalk or city street and issued a cease-and-desist to Bird and alerted the public they could be subject to $98 fines for riding the scooters.

That didn’t deter Bird, which has a history of legal conflict when entering new markets. Thousands of rides have been taken on the scooters since being introduced in Milwaukee. The company has previously paid a $300,000 settlement in California, and encountered legal issues in a number of other markets.

In response to the legal ruling of Assistant City Attorney Adam Stephens, a Bird spokesperson told Urban Milwaukee: “Bird scooters are helping cities meet their ambitious goals of reducing carbon emissions and addressing the ever present car traffic crisis. We respectfully disagree with the city’s contention that operation of any electric scooter in the state of Wisconsin is unlawful. We look forward to working with the city to create and enforce common sense rules encouraging the safe use of our sustainable transportation option that the people of Milwaukee have begun to adopt enthusiastically.”

The city has also filed suit against Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden who previously was an executive at transportation network companies Uber and Lyft.

The city’s lawsuit includes an affidavit from Milwaukee Police Department sergeant Chad Raden that an operator told him “If you’re going to ticket me, you won’t be able to catch me.” The scooters have a maximum listed speed of 15 miles per hour.

The city’s suit contends that “If allowed to continue, irreparable harm to the residents and visitors to the City of Milwaukee, State of Wisconsin will occur. Bird’s deliberate and willful disregard for legal requirements for the registration of motor vehicles harms societal respect for the law and encourages its violation. Bird inadequately informs renters of their responsibilities to comply with other laws such as basic traffic safety and right of way, including the prohibition of operation while intoxicated. Bird also inadequately informs operators of the dangers of operating a motor scooter that can reach speeds up to 15 miles per hour, posing a risk to pedestrians and riders alike, while facetiously offering to ‘send’ a helmet to a renter but not requiring one prior to rental.”

The city is requesting an injunction that would remove Bird’s scooters from the street while the case is pending. That request will be taken up in a Friday morning hearing.

The case, City of Milwaukee v. Bird Rides, Inc. & Travis Vanderzanden, Milw. Co. Case No. 18-CV-005630, has been assigned to Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge William Pocan.

Dockless scooter and bicycle operator LimeBike continues to work with the city on creating a regulatory framework for their legal operation on city streets.

Urban Milwaukee first broke the news of the city’s lawsuit on Friday evening in a Twitter post that generated a substantial amount of feedback both for and against the electric scooters.

A full copy of the city’s suit is available online.

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20 thoughts on “City Hall: City Sues Scooter Operator Bird”

  1. leah says:

    have seen hundreds riding these around 3rd Ward, Downtown, East Side. If you download app you can also see their reach into Riverwest, Harambee and Bay View. very surprised that a city always lamenting a lack of young professionals has adopted this strategy. Where are the Aldermen who are always searching for ideas to attract young talent? or mass transit advocates? These “last mile” forms of transportation fit hand in glove with the streetcar and BRT. It’s seems clear BIRD is looking for a compromise solution. Why have cooler heads not prevailed to welcome a service that will clearly become part of the urban landscape in every major city in the world? Time for leadership. Who will step up?

  2. John says:

    “Why have cooler heads not prevailed to welcome a service that will clearly become part of the urban landscape in every major city in the world?”

    – It seems like a lot of other cities have done the same thing Milwaukee is doing because they have caused problems. It turns out that a vehicle that isn’t ideally suited to sidewalks or streets can cause a lot of problems, aside from the potential sidewalk obstruction issue.

  3. montaviusj92 says:

    “It turns out that a vehicle that isn’t ideally suited to sidewalks or streets can cause a lot of problems”

    -You’ve just very aptly described cars. Thank you

  4. Galeb says:

    Appreciate your thoughts. However there is no real evidence of problems. These are perceived problems. This is a two wheel vehicle that weighs about 50 pounds and has a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour.From a transportation infrastructure perspective It’s no different than a bike. And how does the city allow permits for a Segway but not this? Not very consistent.
    On another note, I’ve seen where other cities have required these services to share travel data. That has huge value as we determine future streetcar, bus or other mass transit routes.
    Bottom line- very, very cool. Milwaukee should not be the enemy of cool.

  5. TransitRider says:

    Galeb, electric scooters are not the same as bikes.

    Bikes have reflectors and lights at night; scooters have none. Not only do bikes have reflectors, but most of those reflectors move in distinct patterns telling drivers this is a bike. Reflectors on pedals move up and down, those on spokes move circularly, and even those on the frame or fender move slightly side-to-side; all of these unique motions inform drivers that this is a (slower-moving) bike, not a car or motorcycle.

    Even if scooters had reflectors or lights, none of those would have a motion that differed from that of a car or truck.

  6. Galeb says:

    Are you saying that a reflector or light doesn’t exist or couldn’t be developed that provides the proper amount of warning to a car? That’s silly. Not unlike the crowd that said automobiles will never work because they can’t share the road with a horse and buggy.
    Additionally, the articles state that the scooters are picked up at 9pm to be recharged so they aren’t operated after dark. Not sure if that tine changes depending on time of year.

  7. 2fs says:


    Well, considering some jerk on a Bird nearly clipped me as I walked out the door of a building the other day, I have to say I disagree with your contention that there are only “perceived” problems.

    And wouldn’t you know: five minutes later, I saw three people on Birds on the street…with a line of cars behind, because there wasn’t room where they were riding to pass.

    The problem here is, despite the basic concept being a good one (as indicated in the Bird exec’s statement), rather than work with the city to figure out a framework to prevent the kinds of problems Lime and Bird have had elsewhere (as Lime is apparently doing), Bird just dumped the scooters on the street.

  8. DAG999 says:

    Rather than go to court on this…how about the City of Milwaukee in all its wisdom (stupidity) change the ordinance and have a “trial” period for these things in a given area? Off all the things that need fixin’ in our fair City, I do not think tying up the legal system for this piddly thing is worth it. Just make them follow some rules, like a kid on a bike has to.

  9. Chris says:

    Bird’s strategy is smart, just like it was for Uber and Lyft. Enter a market, disrupt status quo, find instant popularity and figure out the legality after the fact…

    The larger question with far greater implications is an age old one: Who are city streets for? The answer is People.

    The most vibrant cities around the world are re-balancing their streets to accommodate diverse modes of transportation, starting with walking. Milwaukee would be well-served to pay attention to the fact that people enjoy having many ways to get around, including scooters. Instead of always being reactionary, it would be nice to see Milwaukee actually be a leader in creating streets for people.

  10. Ed Zachery says:

    I’m all for Bird and I hope they win. Hopefully we can update some of our outdated ordinances. The way it currently sounds anyone riding anything unregistered with a motor is breaking the law from powered mobility scooters to Segways, e-bikes, e-skateboards.

  11. Kat says:

    I’m for this and anything like it. I already use the Bublr bikes but with a limited number of bike having locks the scooter is perfect to fill the gap. If only we had a light rail like Seattle to get us from the burbs to downtown, I would only use my car when heading out of town. I have hope for this future, but do our officials?

  12. John says:

    “However there is no real evidence of problems.”

    Sure there is, just look at the real problems they caused in San Francisco.

    50 pounds and has a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour is a lot when you are a pedestrian, in a large group of pedestrians, on a crowded sidewalk, with a guy on a scooter barreling through near that top speed.

    I think scooters make more sense in bike lanes than anywhere else, but that creates other issues.

  13. PMD says:

    Interesting recent story about Bird:

    “The problem is that cities have been shocked to discover that thousands of electric scooters have been dropped onto their sidewalks seemingly overnight. Often, the companies ignored all the usual avenues of getting city approval to set up shop. And since the scooters are dockless, riders can just grab one, go a few blocks and leave it wherever they want, causing a commotion on sidewalks and scenes of scooters strewn across wheelchair ramps and in doorways.”

  14. Comfy Chair says:

    If i find one of these in a right of way, like tin the photo in the article, I plan to remove it and take it to a police station as abandoned property. If the alarm goes off, i will silence it. Milwaukee does not need more crap littering our streets and sidewalks!

    These are a hazard, plain and simple.

  15. DAG999 says:

    Oh please. Maybe some idiot mindlessly walking and talking on their cell phone completely ignorant of their surroundings will trip on one and they will learn a lesson.

  16. John says:

    Simple, if the city doesn’t want them and Bird didn’t get permission to drop them off the city should confiscate all of them, put them in a warehouse until the suit is settled.

  17. Galeb says:

    Excellent discussion. A few points:

    – no, they should not be allowed to operate on sidewalks. That is indeed a hazard.
    – many has been the tine I’ve seen cars lined up behind 3 or 4 bikes in a rain w on the street. Should we now outlaw bikes because cars can’t travel at a constant speed of 39 mph every second of operation?
    – rules and regs that are negotiated with the city will deal with issues such as scooters blocking a handicap ramp. From the limited experience we’ve had in the city so far, I have observed these scooters parked in a very respectful manner throughout the city.
    – @Chris is right on the mark. The public right of way is a public asset that should be available for citizens to get from point A to point B by using multiple modes of transportation in a safe and cooperative manner. Once rules and regs are set for scooters and dockless bikeshare ( coming soon !!!) they should be accommodated like all others.

  18. iced tea says:

    OMG! -a company that is claimed to be worth 2 billion dollars, has the business model of dumping mini rollercoasters on municipalities, likely charging well under costs, and paying fines w/ a small fraction of future investment monies? Who are you, piddly MIlw., to jeopardize the millions in other investments that have likely been backed by the stability of holdings in ScootShare LLC! We should be talking about bailing them out before they even start to have regulatory problems.
    Please God, forbid Bird from taking all it’s Millenials away.

  19. Y2000 says:

    Just got back from San Diego where they are all over the place, literally. People love them there and are quite popular. They do go fast which can be a problem if riders don’t respect others using the sidewalks. It bears repeating that they are fast. Great for bike paths and lanes but not for walks. The biggest problem I saw was they were parked all over the place so pedestrians had to walk in the street to pass. In Milwaukee with sidewalk cafes taking up space like on Brady Street there would be no room to ride on the walk without taking up pedestrian space. On sidewalks, pedestrians shouldn’t have to worry about bikes, scooters, motorcycles or cars.

  20. Mama Scott says:

    One of these was dumped on my terrace right outside my window last night around dusk. I bemusingly watched no less than 4 attempts by adults in their 20s trying unsuccessfully to make these sweet rides “go” using their smart phones. I’ll tell you…with the amount of cursing going on, you would have thought their ankles were broken and there was no other way to get to the party. And that was only the cursing I could hear over the incessant “I’m shut down for the day because I need to recharge my battery” alert emanating from the vehicle.

    A short bit later, I was looking down the street to see what on Earth was annoyingly flashing on the sidewalk 1/2 block away (another BIRD) when I heard a foreign sounding THUD. Took me and a friend a hot minute to realize the scooter in front of my house had just tipped over and its handle had come to a rest on the side of my car that was parked in the street in front of my house. Now, I’ve got three kids at home under the age of six. I don’t need another job picking up after anyone else. Get some docks for these things so Milwaukee doesn’t look like an unkempt yard.

    I have little patience for a company that vagrantly ignores rules and disrespects peoples’ cities. Also, they’re giving all the other birds a bad name.

    Ah well. Just another reason to move to the suburbs.

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