Milwaukee Common Council avoids outright ban on dockless scooters

But authorizes city to impound them

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The Milwaukee Common Council today sidestepped legislation that would have outright banned the use of dockless motorized scooters such as Bird on public streets and sidewalks, but it also authorized their impoundment.

Bird supporters Carlos Ferrer, Emily Kullerstrand, Borna Riazi and Sina Riazi at the Milwaukee Common Council meeting.

Some last minute amendments, sponsored by Alderman Robert Bauman, directed the Department of Public Works to conduct a pilot study on dockless motorized scooters. Aldermen say they plan to prohibit the scooters unless the pilot study can demonstrate “their usefulness, effectiveness and safe operation,” leaving the door open to possibly allowing them in the future.

But the city cannot begin the study until state statutes have been amended to allow the operation of motorized scooters in the public right-of-way.

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The amendments removed language from the original ordinance that would have prohibited users from riding Bird scooters on public streets and sidewalks, and fined them up to $500 for a violation.

Bauman emphasized before today’s 12-2 vote that the city doesn’t have the ability to legalize dockless scooters, and that they are governed by state law. The City of Milwaukee is currently suing California-based dockless scootershare operator Bird Rides Inc., citing the state law, but Bird says the scooters’ legality is in a gray area. 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.

But Bauman said with today’s passage of the ordinance, the city can begin impounding the scooters in about a week and a half, once the mayor has signed the ordinance and it has been published. The city will charge Bird $100 per scooter impounded.

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Alderman Tony Zielinski said he voted “no” today because a Bird representative was not allowed to speak at a recent Public Works Committee meeting.

“Procedurally, I’m disappointed in how this item has been handled,” Zielinski said.

The Common Council also unanimously adopted a resolution asking the State of Wisconsin to legalize the use of motorized scooters on public roads. The State Legislature is not back in session until January.

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A Bird representative present at today’s Common Council meeting declined to comment. She led several supporters of the scootershare service in a demonstration outside City Hall prior to the meeting.

Among the supporters were Menomonee Falls residents Sina and Borna Riazi, who held signs that said, “We <3 Bird” and “Save bird in MKE.”

Bird scooters in the Third Ward.

“It’s so efficient because you can just leave them on the sidewalk and you don’t have to find parking,” said Sina, a student at Hamilton High School in Sussex.

“We just love riding them. We don’t want to see them go away,” Borna said. “For us it’s just a really fun activity to do with your friends.”

Also holding signs of support in the gallery were Emily Kullerstrand and Carlos Ferrer, who live on Milwaukee’s south side. They both work as Lyft drivers, and skipped driving today to come to the Common Council meeting.

“I’m an avid user and a charger—I use it almost every day and I charge them every night,” Ferrer said. “If I don’t want to park downtown, it’s easy to get to places.”

According to CNN, Bird, which was founded in 2017 and is now in upward of 20 cities, has raised a $300 million funding round from investors and is now valued at $2 billion.

Update, 2:30 p.m.

Later this afternoon, Bird released the following statement about the Common Council action:

“The City of Milwaukee passed an ordinance today giving local law enforcement authority to impound e-scooters being operated as ‘motor vehicles’ based on an interpretation of state law. However, the federal government motor vehicle safety regulator (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has affirmatively stated that scooters like those offered by Bird ‘are not motor vehicles.’ [See:]. We look forward to continuing our work with the City of Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin to resolve this matter and provide the people of Wisconsin our clean energy solution for short distance trips.”

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