Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Police Can Soon Seize Scooters

Effective August 4. Now up to Legislature to change state law and make scooters legal.

By - Aug 1st, 2018 04:30 pm
Bird e-scooters. Photo by Dave Reid.

Bird e-scooters. Photo by Dave Reid.

The Milwaukee Police Department and other city officials will have the legal authority to impound motorized scooters found parked on city streets or sidewalks starting August 4th.

The authority comes after the Common Council and Mayor Tom Barrett both signed off on legislation yesterday that allows the city to impound the vehicles, while simultaneously legalizing the vehicles should the state grant them an exception from regulations regarding motorized vehicles. The city’s paper of record, The Daily Reporter, is scheduled to publish the change, allowing the measure to go into effect after August 3rd according to City Clerk Jim Owczarski.

Until that exception is granted by either the Wisconsin State Legislature, Attorney General or counsel of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the scooters are being illegally operated on city streets, says Assistant City Attorney Adam Stephens. Riders are subject to $98.80 fines under state law, although the police have shown no desire to issue a ticket unless there is a crash.

California-based Bird dropped off 100 scooters on Milwaukee streets on June 27th, the first day of Summerfest and has since added more scooters to its Milwaukee fleet. 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.

Stephens rendered an opinion in late June that the motorized scooters are not legal under state law and that the city does not have the power to legalize them. The city filed a suit against Bird, the only dockless scooter provider operating in the city, after the company ignored a request to cease-and-desist operating in Milwaukee.

Bauman told Urban Milwaukee Tuesday that he expects the city to exercise its authority to impound the scooters. Should they seize them, Bird will have to pay $100 per vehicle to retrieve its scooters. If the company fails to retrieve its scooters within 30 days, the city may sell the scooters via an auction, donate them to a non-profit or scrap them.

An amendment introduced yesterday by Alderman Robert Bauman lessened the impact of the new legislation by striking a blanket prohibition on the vehicles, dropping proposed penalties associated with the operation of the scooters that would have created substantial city fines for riders and eliminating the mandatory participation in a pilot program upon state legalization. Bauman said the changes were made at the request of the mayor.

But until the vehicles are rendered legal by the state, riders could still be subject to a $98.80 fine under the current state law for operating an unregistered motor vehicle. The first ticket was issued two weeks ago after a scooter operator crashed into a pedestrian on a sidewalk.

In an interview after Tuesday’s meeting, Bauman expressed his frustration with the company. “Bird is getting away with murder here,” said Bauman about Bird’s positioning of the city as the bad guy, when he says the scooters are clearly illegal under state law.

Yesterday, Bird issued a statement via a spokesperson stating: “The City of Milwaukee passed an ordinance today giving local law enforcement authority to impound e-scooters being operated as ‘motor vehicles’ based on an interpretation of state law. However, the Federal Government motor vehicle safety regulator NHTSA has affirmatively stated that scooters like those offered by Bird “are not ‘motor vehicles.'” [See:]. We look forward to continuing our work with the city of Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin to resolve this matter and provide the people of Wisconsin our clean energy solution for short distance trips.”

In addition to granting impoundment authority and creating a pilot program, the Common Council unanimously passed a measure Tuesday requesting that the city’s lobbying team ask the legislature to legalize the scooters. That action may take some time as the legislature isn’t scheduled to meet again until January 2019 because of the fall elections.

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