City Moves to Impound Bird Scooters
With no authority to legalize scooters, city officials move to get them off the streets.
Without a change to state law, the days of Bird’s electric scooters on Milwaukee streets and sidewalks are likely limited.
The committee approved the measure, which allows the city to impound the vehicles should they be found parked or left on city streets and sidewalks, after hearing a report on the legal status of Bird’s dockless scooter program from Assistant City Attorney Adam Stephens.
The committee also unanimously approved the creation of a pilot program to legalize dockless scooters on city streets, conditioned on the scooters’ legalization by the state. But that legislation appears unlikely to come until January 2019 at the earliest.
“We are open to new ideas, we are open to cool,” said committee chair Alderman Robert Bauman, while stressing that California-based Bird is choosing to ignore state law and is “literally giving the citizens of Milwaukee the middle finger.”
During his lengthy testimony, Stephens laid out the core issues of the city’s pending lawsuit against Bird, which has since been moved up to federal court at Bird’s request. According to the independent City Attorney’s office, the scooters cannot be legally operated on city streets because of the state statutes that govern vehicles operated on the public right-of-way. The state law, which municipalities are required to adopt uniformly, requires vehicles to have an ownership title, be registered, and meet certain safety standards.
Certain vehicles, like bicycles, Segways and various agricultural vehicles, are exempt from such regulation. “There are a whole host of exceptions, and Bird’s motorized scooters are not one of them,” said Stephens.
The city has asked Bird to cease and desist, but the company, which Stephens says hasn’t registered to do business in Wisconsin, has declined to act.
Looking at other cities where Bird operates doesn’t offer much guidance for Milwaukee officials on how to govern the scooters. “Many times the cities themselves have their own traffic jurisdiction that the City of Milwaukee does not have,” Stephens said. His office, in an effort to get up to speed on the matter, has done an extensive search of reports from other markets.
Bauman put it another way: “for all the media out there, the city has no power to legalize this Bird scooter operation on the city streets.”
Ald. Michael Murphy questioned the insurance and liability requirements of Bird, one reason the city might not want to just look the other way and allow the scooters to operate on city streets.
Lower East Side resident Megan Cochran, who told media after the meeting that she is in her 30th week of pregnancy, was hit head-on by a scooter operator on a sidewalk last Tuesday night. “It was enough to shake me up,” said Cochran. “I wasn’t bruised. My baby’s fine.” Cochran says the rider kept on going and yelled back “sorry” after the scooter’s handlebars bumped into her.
But the incident raises the question of who would be liable for any medical costs if Cochran was injured. She called the Milwaukee Police Department to create an incident report.
Both Bauman and Stephens say they don’t want to see the Milwaukee Police Department ticketing individuals for operating the scooters. “They’re being defrauded by this company,” said Bauman.
The ordinance is scheduled to be considered by the full Common Council on July 31st.
Should it be approved, the dockless motorized scooter parking ban would allow the city to impound the scooters and charge a fee for their redemption. In addition, the owner of the scooter would be subject to a fine of up to $500 per day per scooter. The ordinance allows fines up to $1,000 for subsequent violations.
Bird might have to wait months to be able to operate in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin State Legislature is out of session until January, pending the November election.
In an attempt to make his case to the committee, Stephens played a video by Realistic Marketing, Inc. that takes a humorous look at some of the issues users and cities encounter with dockless scooters.
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