Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

City Moves to Impound Bird Scooters

With no authority to legalize scooters, city officials move to get them off the streets.

By - Jul 18th, 2018 02:41 pm
Bird scooter in Milwaukee. Photo by Alison Peterson.

Bird scooter in Milwaukee. Photo by Alison Peterson.

Without a change to state law, the days of Bird’s electric scooters on Milwaukee streets and sidewalks are likely limited.

The Common Council’s Public Works Committee unanimously approved an ordinance that bans dockless scooters, while also creating a path to legalization for the scooters.

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.”

The company dropped off 100 scooters on Milwaukee streets on June 27th, the first day of Summerfest. The electric-powered scooters, which can go up to 15 miles per hour, can be rented via a smartphone application for $1 per ride plus 15 cents per minute.

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.

Bird Video

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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9 thoughts on “City Hall: City Moves to Impound Bird Scooters”

  1. Troll says:

    All these young adults having the time of their lives trekking around the downtown. I read 68,000 uses in a three week period. Amazing. Now, government comes to take away their fun. I am just as likely to be hit by a Bubler, or any other bike on a sidewalk downtown. Just remember kids you can smoke a fatty downtown and no one will give a hoot but you hop on a bird and the leftists will get you. If government is smart they will ticket whitey and then more likely whitey will pay the fine. Leave minorities alone.

  2. AA says:

    God forbid the government to try and accept something new for the city. Wish they moved this quick to shut down the drug house by me.

  3. GreenDoor says:

    I agree with the point that these need to be regulated somehow, if for no other reason than to make clear whether a rider must be on the street vs. the sidewalk, and who would be liable in an accident situation.

    But I also agree wth the sentiment of Troll and AA. It’s also pathetic that the Common Council supports the ridiculously expesnive Barret Trolley to Nowhere that does nothing to connect unemployed jobs, the disadvantaged to resources, or the City to the surrounding suburbs. Yet they object so strongly to an affordable, fuel efficient, easy to use mode of transportation that could be available to all city residents.

  4. We Have Bigger Problems says:

    Birds are compact, useful, cheap to operate and put a huge smile on my face. When they’re removed from the city, I might just buy one on Amazon. Will I be fined? Goes without saying that we have bigger problems, but even if we didn’t, these aren’t one.

  5. Matt says:

    These things are ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC! They’re fun, so convenient, easy, and I love that you can just walk up to one, hop on, scoot to where you need to go, and leave it. They’re the absolute perfect way to navigate our rightly-sized city. We need more of them! Milwaukee is seriously the perfect city for these. I also have to say that while riding one of these, you’re much more likely to drive safely. No one want to hit anything. The bublr bikes are big and clunky and you need to go to a station, and return to a station – which isn’t convenient. Not to mention, people ride those stupid bublr bikes on the sidewalks – they are much larger and pose much more risk to pedestrians. The birds are so much better, agile and nimble – and more fun! If Milwaukee gets rid of these, our government has a problem. These are innovative and amazing and WE THE PEOPLE LOVE THEM.

  6. Kevin says:

    Just what we need; another group of entitled narcissists. Its bad enough to have to put up the a-holes on bicycles who demand full rights while on the roadways but have no qualms darting into a crosswalk or slaloming down a sidewalk through actual pedestrians when it suits them.

    Now the same clowns want to do the same with these scooters. Already one pregnant women has been bowled over with no regard or concern from the offender. The police should most certainly enforce and cite these public scofflaws.

    “Bicycles are, for the most part, less dangerous than cars or trucks. But reckless driving is a crime whether it’s committed with a gas pedal or foot pedals.” This is the decision of a California appeals court.

    A bicyclist in New York City may face homicide charges for leaving a pedestrian brain dead.

    Who wouldv’e thought trolley tracks may be our best defense from these selfish anti-social types.

  7. Troll says:

    I wave at people now that ride the Bird. Good for them. The article also states a complaint from a 30 week pregnant women. Seriously, the left is concerned about the “ball of tissue” that may or may not be life.

  8. Ben says:

    I agree with the City of Milwaukee. The practice of the bird is not wrong – but I agree with GreenDoor. There needs to be regulations in place. This isn’t just about birds, but also about future companies designing devices that we can use in public spaces without municipal involvement. Involving the city, county, and whoever else involved is a necessity. Especially when these are for-profit, companies, etc. Street vendors cannot just open a business on the sidewalk and sell their goods. They are permits and other processes involved. Similarly, I would expect a company selling their goods on the sidewalk, i.e. a bike or bird through a downloadable app, needing to go through all the municipal steps too.

  9. LT says:

    Judge Smails: “Do you know what I just saw? A gopher. Do you know what gophers can do to a golf course?”

    Groundskeeper Sandy: “Aye, Sir. I think they’re tunneling in from that construction site.”

    Judge Smails: “Well, I slap an injunction on them so fast it’ll make their head spin.”

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