City of Milwaukee settles Bird electric scooter lawsuit

State legislation would allow pilot to proceed

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 July 3rd, 2019 at 07:09 pm

The City of Milwaukee and Bird Rides Inc. have settled their lawsuit over the legality of the electric scooters’ operation here.

The city filed the suit against Bird on July 6 after the company launched its dockless scooter rental service in Milwaukee in late June. Bird has argued the scooters are legal under federal law. Milwaukee has argued the scooters are illegal under state law, and it needs guidance from the state Legislature to allow them.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed in a court filing Wednesday. The city attorney’s office and Bird did not respond to requests for comment this morning.

Bird had a dramatic, if short-lived, introduction to the Milwaukee market, with scooter riders demonstrating at a Common Council meeting, the city threatening to impound the scooters and fine riders, the Common Council ultimately approving an electric scooter pilot pending state legislation, and the company and city ultimately releasing a joint statement indicating they would remove the scooters from city streets and cooperate with each other.

Meanwhile, the legislation that would pave the way for all electric scooter operators to begin doing business in Wisconsin was introduced in the state Legislature last month, and a public hearing was held this week. Assembly Bill 159 and Senate Bill 152 allow for the operation of electric scooters on highways.

The bills define electric scooters as “a device weighing less than 100 pounds that has handlebars and an electric motor, is powered solely by the electric motor and human power, and has a maximum speed of not more than 20 miles per hour on a paved level surface when powered solely by the electric motor.” They would be exempt from vehicle registration with the state, and operators would be beholden to the rules of the road followed by bicycles.

Local communities do have some leeway under the proposal, and would have to OK the local rental of scooters, as well as define where they can be operated.

The City of Milwaukee supported the legislation in the public hearing on AB 159. Its statement read, in part:

“We support this legislation because we want the scooters to operate in the City of Milwaukee and provide another transportation option for our residents and visitors, but also want them to be legal, and to follow the rules of the road and the proper use of the right of way.”

The city also affirmed its commitment to launching the pilot in cooperation with scooter operators to see “what works and what does not work in a large city environment, and make adjustments and improvements easily.”

The Milwaukee Department of Public Works has got everything lined up to launch the pilot, said Brian DeNeve, marketing and communications officer for DPW, this morning.

“We’ll be ready to go very quickly once that is signed into law,” he said.

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Molly Dill
Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.