Jeramey Jannene

Scooters Could Return To City In May

Common Council creating path for scooters, and with usage beyond Downtown.

By - Mar 10th, 2021 11:27 am
Lime scooters on Broadway in the Historic Third Ward. Photo by Dave Reid.

Lime scooters on Broadway in the Historic Third Ward. Photo by Dave Reid.

Dockless, electric scooters could return to Milwaukee streets in 2021.

On Wednesday morning, the Common Council’s Public Works Committee held the creation of a second pilot study that would allow private operators to deploy their rentable scooters within targeted areas. But the members also agreed to a pathway to allow scooters on city streets as early as May 15th.

Committee chair Alderman Robert Bauman said the hold would give city officials time to refine the 2021 proposal. He’s advocating for the city to hire a consultant to monitor the program and institute a termination trigger if sidewalk riding exceeds a certain threshold.

Private operators deployed over 1,000 scooters to Milwaukee streets in 2019 during a pilot study period, but a regulatory framework was not instated for 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

A total of 350,130 rides were taken in 2019, with the three participating companies reporting 67 crashes and 141 citizen complaints being submitted to the city. An average of 3.6 riders per vehicle per day were taken. A Department of Public Works (DPW) survey at the end of 2019 generated 7,658 responses.

The complaints centered on sidewalk riding, which is prohibited, and how the scooters were parked. During 32 different hour-long observation periods of 18 intersections, 17.2% of riders were observed to be riding on the sidewalk.

Under an amendment introduced by Bauman, citywide scooter operation would be required to be terminated if more than 10% of riders are found to be on the sidewalk by DPW or a consultant. The alderman is calling for the consultant, to be paid for by the operators, to conduct a more systematic analysis of scooter usage.

“Hiring a consultant is a really good suggestion,” said Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske.

“Part of the problem with riding on sidewalks is there are areas where users might be uncomfortable being in the street at all,” said Polenske.

“Absolutely,” said Bauman. “And that’s why they may be problematic to have around at all.”

Polenske said scooter operators can restrict scooters from operating in specific corridors. Restrictions were instituted on Marquette University‘s and UW-Milwaukee’s campuses. Bauman suggested adding portions of the Historic Third Ward.

The commissioner suggested the 10% threshold be amended to give time for operators to institute restrictions in problematic areas.

Polenske said fees associated with the pilot had the potential to raise $350,000 for improvements to city streets. He said the city had the opportunity to accommodate the scooters and by doing so accomplish other mobility goals.

“Well we did, and at least for me, the sidewalk riding was unacceptable,” said Bauman. He said he was comfortable only with allowing operation on city streets with bike lanes and other protected infrastructure. “A pilot [study] is fine.”

Most of the trips were taken in Bauman’s downtown-centric council district. He said what happened in 2019 was akin to his office becoming a full-time complaint department.

Under the 2019 rules, authorized companies were able to place up to 250 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 HillBronzevilleHarambeeBay View and a special cutout west to N. 22nd St. for Marquette University. The companies were able to place 100 additional scooters, bringing each company’s total fleet size to 350, in two additional zones (50 scooters per zone) that encompassed the rest of the city and were roughly divided by Interstate 94.

Kate Riordan, DPW transportation planner, said the 2021 plan calls for reconfiguring the city into seven zones to try to spur more ridership across the rest of the city. It would allow for more scooters outside of the greater downtown area while reducing the number of scooters permitted in Downtown. The 2019 pilot allowed a maximum of 1,000 scooters per company if certain performance metrics related to utilization were met.

The city anticipates adding marked parking corrals for high-usage areas and requiring operators to host education events.

A $25-per-scooter fee and $0.15-per-trip fee would be collected by the city. The city would not regulate the fees the companies charge. Most companies, using a smartphone application, charge an unlocking fee and a per-minute fee.

The resulting cost to the user is often slightly more than a bus ride but less than a trip with Uber or Lyft. “It’s less expensive than rideshare, which is what a lot of our survey respondents said,” noted Riordan.

“Scooters are one piece of the puzzle,” said Michael Amsden, DPW multi-modal manager, of their value to the city. He said a general increase in biking, electric bikes, Bublr Bikes and scooters could reduce reckless driving behavior when a critical mass of users is reached.

DPW hopes to allow scooter operation from May 15th through November 15th. Amsden said it would likely have to be pushed back if the council delays acting.

State law, enacted in 2019, gives municipalities the authority to enact a regulatory framework to enable scooters use on their streets. The state caps vehicle speeds at 15 miles per hour.

The Public Works Committee is next scheduled to meet on March 30th.

Bauman said the measure could be approved by the full council on March 23rd if DPW prepares the revisions in time, and indicated this is the likely path.

Categories: Transportation, Weekly

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