Bird scooters illegal to operate on Milwaukee public streets and sidewalks

City says vehicles would need state title

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

Last updated on May 14th, 2019 at 05:04 am

The electric scooters that scooter-share startup Bird delivered to Milwaukee curbs yesterday are illegal to ride on Milwaukee streets and sidewalks, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

Bird scooters were distributed in the Third Ward today.

“They would be classified as motor vehicles under Wisconsin traffic law and they’re not registered or titled,” said Deputy City Attorney Adam Stephens. “They can’t be (registered or titled), because they’re not properly equipped with federal safety requirements and manufacturer certifications.”

If you planned to take a ride on one of the scooters, beware. Stephens said the fine for operating the scooters on city streets or sidewalks is $98.80.

Santa Monica, California-based Bird first contacted the City Attorney’s Office at about 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Stephens said, well after it had distributed the scooters around town yesterday morning.

“We’re considering our legal remedies right now, which could include citations and injunctive relief including seizure,” Stephens said.

The Department of Public Works and City Attorney’s Office this morning released a public statement about the relevant statutes in response to inquiries about the scooters that said, in part:

“Whether defined as a vehicle (Wis. Stat. Sec. 340.01(35)), motor vehicle (Wis. Stat. Sec. 340.01(35)) or a play vehicle (Wis. Stat. Sec. 340.01(43m)), under no circumstances may motorized scooters operate on a public street because they are not designed for on-street use. If motorized scooters were designed for on-street use, they would be subject to federal safety standards and manufacturer certifications.”

Alderman Bob Bauman, who represents the downtown area where the scooters have been operating, also released a statement this morning. It said, in part:

“It’s irresponsible for this company to come into Milwaukee and place the unsuspecting public in legal jeopardy. Quite simply, these vehicles are not authorized for use on sidewalks or city streets and for good reason.”

A spokesman for Bird released the following statement:

“Bird scooters are helping cities meet their ambitious goals of reducing carbon emissions and addressing the ever-present car traffic crisis. We respectfully disagree with the city’s contention that operation of any electric scooter in the state of Wisconsin is unlawful. We look forward to working with the city to create and enforce common sense rules encouraging the safe use of our sustainable transportation option that the people of Milwaukee have begun to adopt enthusiastically.” 

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 Lime (formerly LimeBike) has been attempting to work with the City of Milwaukee and gain public support to launch its dockless service here.

But Stephens said even seeking permission from the city would not work, as the scooters run afoul of state law.

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 prepare for competition from for-profit companies like Lime and Bird.

Bird and Lime have faced criticism in some cities where they’ve launched because they sometimes begin service without explicit permission from a municipality, and because some users have left bikes and scooters in the middle of sidewalks in downtown areas instead of at the curb.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

No posts to display