Last updated on March 31st, 2021 at 03:12 pm
Dockless electric scooters could soon return to Milwaukee, and city officials promise to keep a tighter leash on scooter operators this time around.
The city’s Public Works Committee on Wednesday recommended approval of a new dockless scooter pilot program that would bring the vehicles back by early June.
Scooters have not been on the city’s streets since November 2019, following the Department of Public Works’ five-month pilot program in which three companies deployed hundreds of scooters citywide. The mode of transportation proved popular among Milwaukeeans, averaging 3.6 trips per scooter per day, according to the findings of the DPW study. However, the program raised significant concerns over public safety, specifically the use of scooters on city sidewalks, which is illegal.
DPW’s new pilot program seeks to address the issue by setting a 10% limit on sidewalk ridership per participant. If it’s found that more than 10% of scooter operations are occurring on sidewalks, DPW can revoke the offending participant’s permit to operate on the city’s streets.
The city plans to hire a consultant to observe ridership behavior and keep track of where scooters are being used throughout the city. DPW would use that information to prohibit usage or provide feedback to operators, depending on what part of the city violations occur.
The scooter companies participating in the pilot study would cover the cost of the consultants services.
“We didn’t have any scooters on the street last year, and I think the scooter companies have probably learned more best practices on how to to curb sidewalk riding and our expectation is that they’re coming into a new season with a high level of urgency to minimize impacts from scooter ridership,” said Jeffrey Polenske, DPW commissioner during Wednesday’s committee meeting.
The first “intersection count” will take place in July, followed by a second count in August and possibly a third in September. The program will take a more aggressive approach to enforcing the 10% limit in Zone 1, which includes the immediate downtown, Third Ward and part of the East Side. That area had the highest and most problematic ridership during the last pilot study, he said.
Operators who exceed 10% sidewalk riding in Zone 1 during the first counting period will immediately be barred from operating in that area. The program is more lenient in Zones 2 and 3, which cover the city’s north and south sides, respectively. Offending operators in those zones would have the opportunity to reduce compliance issues before the city conducts its second count.
“A major goal of this is to try and get more scooter usage into the neighborhoods and try to increase the benefit of having another transportation option within the neighborhoods,” said Polenske.
The proposed pilot study is set to end on Dec. 31, 2021, “unless earlier terminated,” according to city documents. DPW would then submit a final report on the results and effectiveness of having dockless scooters in the city on a permanent basis.
Three companies: Lime, Spin and Bird agreed to participate in the 2019 study. Lime began its service on July 23, Spin on Aug. 13 and Bird on Aug. 14. All three pulled their scooters off the streets in November as the weather got cold.
A number of groups have voiced support for the 2021 pilot study, including the Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force, Downer BID, East Side BID, the Historic Third Ward Association, Newaukee and VISIT Milwaukee.
Dockless scooters and other urban modes of transportation, such as bike share, streetcars, busses and pedestrian friendly streets, help promote the vibrancy of a city and thus its businesses, said Jim Plasteid, executive director of the Historic Third Ward Association, a letter to the Public Works Committee.
“As we rise from the dust of this vicious pandemic, we support all methods available to assure out commercial district’s success in the coming months and year … While dockless scooters are still relatively new mode of transportation, their potential benefits must be adequately assessed,” he wrote.