City’s dockless scooter pilot approved and accepting applications

Riders must observe rules of the road

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

The Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance regulating motorized scooters, and established the previously agreed upon Dockless Scooter Pilot Study to test them through Dec. 31.

The move comes after Gov. Tony Evers on Monday signed into law a bill authorizing dockless scooters on Wisconsin roads, paving the way for the city to move forward.

Santa Monica, California-based Bird Rides Inc. first dropped its scooters on Milwaukee curbs one year ago, and the transportation devices have been in limbo ever since. In May, the City of Milwaukee and Bird settled their lawsuit over the legality of the scooters’ operation here. Bird argued the scooters were legal under federal law. Milwaukee argued the scooters were illegal under state law, and it needed guidance from the state Legislature to allow them.

The Common Council last summer approved the electric scooter pilot pending state legislation, and the company and city indicated they would remove the scooters and cooperate with each other.

The pilot study, which is being administered by the city’s Department of Public Works, will evaluate the impacts of dockless scooters on the access to the public right of way – a concern that has been raised by critics who have seen scooters obstruct sidewalks in other cities – with the aim of increasing transportation options and expanding access to transit.

“This pilot is yet another example of the City of Milwaukee exploring opportunities to create a more robust, holistic transportation network,” said Jeff Polenske, commissioner of Public Works. “In utilizing best practices from other municipalities across the country, this pilot seeks to accommodate user demand while safely incorporating these mobility devices into the right of way.”

Scooter rental companies are required to notify users that sidewalk riding is prohibited, riding and parking on the Riverwalk are prohibited, they are encouraged to wear a helmet, they must follow the rules of the road and the scooters must be parked responsibly. The scooter speed limit is 15 MPH.

Some critics have expressed concern about users riding the scooters while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“Based upon state and local ordinances, we don’t have an OWI ordinance for scooters,” which means riders can’t be cited for it, said Brian DeNeve, marketing and communications officer for DPW.

Alderman Robert Bauman, who represents Milwaukee’s 4th District covering most of downtown, said he received a number of complaints about the scooters being ridden on sidewalks last summer

“When motorized scooters were dumped on Milwaukee streets in summer 2018, the operator company was breaking state law,” Bauman said. “Now that state law has been amended, the city is prepared to embrace motorized scooters provided certain basic rules are followed. Foremost among those rules is that motorized scooters cannot be operated on public sidewalks.”

Under the terms of the pilot study, scooter companies will be fined $50 per scooter requiring relocation by the City of Milwaukee, and a $50 redemption fee for each impounded scooter. If they reach $1,000 in total fees, the company will be suspended from the pilot.

Since last summer, Bird, Lime, Uber, Spin, Lyft and VeoRide have contacted DPW about participating in the pilot program once it launched. The city is now accepting applications, but DeNeve did not have information about which companies have applied. None of the applications have been approved so far, he said.

DeNeve said the first scooter application approval could come within the next month or so, and then the first scooters could be available to ride.

Once a company is approved for the pilot study, each will be allowed to deploy 350 scooters citywide. They can distribute up to 750 scooters if they evenly distribute the additional 400 among three geographic zones that DPW has created. And based on performance, the companies can expand their fleets to 1,000. DPW has required them to submit monthly data demonstrating ridership information, trip patterns, complaints and crash information.

In 2020, DPW will put out a final report on the pilot study, and permanent operations will be evaluated.

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Molly Dill
Molly Dill is managing editor at BizTimes Milwaukee, where she also covers entrepreneurship and financial services. Dill joined BizTimes as a reporter in 2011, advancing to associate editor in 2013 and managing editor in 2015. Previously, she was a reporter for the Marshfield News-Herald in central Wisconsin. Dill holds a bachelor's in journalism from Marquette University. She lives in Wauwatosa with her husband, Jesse, and her dog, Tuck.