Bird CEO wants to be dropped from lawsuit

Company asks Milwaukee riders for support

Bird scooters were first distributed in the Third Ward in June 2018.
Bird scooters were first distributed in the Third Ward in June 2018.

In its answer to the City of Milwaukee’s lawsuit against Bird Rides Inc. and its chief executive officer, Travis VanderZanden, the dockless scootershare company says the CEO didn’t authorize its launch in Milwaukee.

Users download the Bird app to rent a scooter.

The answer, filed Thursday, argues VanderZanden should be excluded from the lawsuit or personal liability for the scooters’ violation of state law. According to Bird’s filing: “As the chief executive officer of Bird Rides, VanderZanden oversees the operations of Bird Rides, but (Bird) denies that VanderZanden ever directly authorized or directed bringing scooters to the City of Milwaukee. (And) VanderZanden never directly managed any business dealings of Bird Rides in Wisconsin.”

VanderZanden filed a motion to be dismissed from the case, arguing the court does not have personal jurisdiction over him, since he lives in California.

Santa Monica, California-based Bird distributed its scooters on curbs in and around downtown Milwaukee on June 27, and said it planned to add more scooters in Milwaukee over time. Bird is targeting “last mile” riders who are facing a long walk that is too short to drive. The scooters are rented via the company’s app.

On July 6, the City of Milwaukee sued Bird Rides in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, arguing electric scooters are illegal to operate on public streets under state law. The city and the company have different interpretations on whether the scooters are illegal or in a gray area. And on July 12, the day before a Milwaukee County court was to consider removing the scooters from the city, Bird attorneys moved the case to federal court. The scooters are still operating in Milwaukee.

Bird also argues in its answer that while it brought 100 scooters to Milwaukee, it placed them outside the public right of way and tells its riders not to block public pathways and to park the scooters near bike racks when possible, and always close to the curb.

Bird scooters.

And in response to the issue of the state law regarding electric scooters, Bird says: “To the extent a response is required, admits that Bird Rides’ scooters have not been registered in the State of Wisconsin, but denies that they need to be registered or are capable of being registered.”

Bird also this week sent an email out to its Milwaukee users, asking them to support its continued operation in the city by attending a Common Council meeting on July 31, where the council will evaluate whether to ban the scooters and remove them from the streets.

“Taking away this new, innovative transportation option will hurt riders. Whether you rely on Bird to help you get around town, to get to work, or to explore local businesses in your neighborhood, let’s tell the Council that we want them to say, ‘no,’ to the proposed ban,” the email says.

Bird is one of several bike- and scooter-share companies that have been formed recently to provide an alternative transportation option in cities across the U.S. San Francisco-based for-profit bike- and scooter-share company LimeBike has been attempting to work with the City of Milwaukee and gain public support to launch its dockless service here. The company has made some progress on dockless bikeshare legislation, and said it is watching the Bird lawsuit closely. Milwaukee-based nonprofit bikesharing company, Bublr Bikes, which provides bike rentals via docking stations around the city and suburbs, recently raised $100,000 to continue expanding and to prepare for competition from LimeBike.

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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