Jeramey Jannene

Scooters Legalized But Not on Sidewalks

City's action means scooters could be back on streets soon, but fined for using sidewalks.

By - Jul 9th, 2019 10:38 am
Bird e-scooters. Photo by Dave Reid.

Bird e-scooters. Photo by Dave Reid.

The Milwaukee Common Council has created a pilot program to allow electric motorized scooter operators to potentially bring up to 1,000 scooters each to Milwaukee streets. The move comes in response to a new state law that legalizes their use across Wisconsin.

“There was enthusiasm by some, there was horror by others, namely a lot of pedestrians and members of the disabled community,” said Alderman Robert Bauman about what happened last year when Bird dropped off more than 100 rentable scooters on the city’s streets without notice. The new framework is intended to address those concerns by banning sidewalk riding.

Bauman warned his colleagues that the measure has to pass. “If we do not pass a regulatory framework for motorized scooters as we are proposing to do today, then they can just show up and they’re legal,” said the downtown alderman.

The pilot program, sponsored by Bauman, would require scooter companies to register with the city and comply with a variety of regulations including insurance requirements and speed limits.

The program would allow companies, such as last year’s illegal entrant Bird, to place up to 350 dockless scooters each in an area east of Interstate 43 running from W. Oklahoma Ave. north to the city limits near W. Capitol Dr. that includes Downtown, the East Side, Brewers Hill, Bronzeville, Harambee, Bay View and a special cutout west to N. 22nd St. for Marquette University.

The companies would be able to place additional scooters, bringing each company’s total fleet size to 750, in two additional zones which encompass the rest of the city and are roughly divided by Interstate 94. Scooter fleets would be allowed to increase to 1,000 in size if certain performance metrics outlined in the pilot study, including utilization, are met.

Sidewalk riding would be prohibited as part of the pilot. An amendment introduced by Bauman on the council floor institutes a fine ranging from $20 to $40 for the first offense. Second offenses would cost $50 to $100.

Ald. Mark Borkowski was the lone council member to vote against the proposal. “Call me old fashioned. Call me a worry wart. All I see is the negative. I don’t see what’s really in it for the city,” said Borkowski. “Nobody’s talked about helmets, nobody’s talked about alcohol, nobody’s talked about anything.” A June hearing on the proposal revealed that there is no offense for operating a scooter while intoxicated.

Ald. Robert Donovan abstained from voting on the proposal, citing a desire to hear from the Milwaukee Police Department on enforcement. Bauman said MPD has been asked to weigh in at an upcoming meeting of the Public Works Committee.

“Obviously a prohibition regarding sidewalks is only as good as the enforcement,” said Bauman, but he and others expressed skepticism at an earlier hearing that the police should spend time chasing down scooter operators.

Under the framework, control over the scooter companies, including allowing them in the city or revoking access, is solely held by the Department of Public Works Commissioner Jeff PolenskeBauman said he’s taking a “wait and see approach” with regard to how things play out.

The city’s pilot study is scheduled to sunset on December 31st, 2019. A representative of the City Attorney’s office said the likely outcome is creating a license for the companies, with the pilot providing guidance on license cost and regulations.

Bauman and DPW’s framework received support from Ald. Tony Zielinski. “I think you have approached this in a very methodical fashion,” said Zielinski. “We have to remember this is another means of transportation. This is another option. This is clean energy.” He noted the measure would also generate revenue for the city.

“Sure there are going to be some bumps in the road, just like any initiative,” said the Bay View alderman, adding that any issues would be able to be addressed.

Six potential operators have submitted inquiries to the city in recent months. They include Bird as well as Uber-owned Jump, Lime, Lyft, VeoRide and Spin. Scooters from Jump, Lime and Bird were on display at the bill signing.

Governor Tony Evers signed the state legislation Monday afternoon at a ceremony outside the Milwaukee Public Market. Bauman praised Evers and the state for creating a law that allows local control, but would have liked to be invited to the event. “They failed to invite anyone from the Common Council to attend that bill-signing ceremony.”

Mayor Tom Barrett said at the ceremony that he expects scooters to return to city streets in the coming weeks.

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Related Legislation: File 190433

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