Milwaukee scooter riders ignore city warnings as Bird lawsuit heats up

Posted on


CLOSE

Despite the city of Milwaukee taking legal action against the company, Bird Rides Inc., people are riding around town on these motorized scooters.
Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The sight of someone zipping by on a Bird scooter has become increasingly common in Milwaukee — even as the dispute between the scooter-sharing company and the city heats up.

Deputy City Attorney Adam Stephens declared the electric scooters illegal in a letter to the startup in late June, writing that riders would be issued a $98.80 citation. On July 6, Milwaukee filed a lawsuit against Bird Rides Inc. and its founder, Travis Vanderzanden, for refusing to cease operations, and a week later, Bird attorneys successfully moved the case to federal court.

RELATED: Bird scooters arrive in downtown Milwaukee, but city attorney says they’re illegal to use on streets, sidewalks

RELATED: City of Milwaukee files lawsuit over Bird scooters

In the latest development this week, the Bird scooters could be off the street within a few weeks. On Wednesday, the Common Council’s Public Works Committee recommended an ordinance banning the scooters and authorizing their seizure. Aldermen stressed the illegality of the scooters and outlined risks tied to the scooters, including helmet use and liability issues.

If the state determines motorized scooters are legal, the committee recommended setting up a pilot motorized scooter program. These measures will be considered by the full Common Council on July 31, and, if approved, would go to Mayor Tom Barrett.

But outside its legal battle and despite the city’s best efforts, Bird is thriving. It has rented its scooters more than 6,900 times in Milwaukee, according to court documents, and it just raised $300 million in its latest funding round. This raises its valuation to a whopping $2 billion, reports Reuters.

What residents are saying

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, nearly three weeks after Bird first dropped its scooters in Milwaukee, people could be seen riding all around the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

“I didn’t even know they were illegal,” said Josh Sopa, who was riding a scooter near Veterans Park.

Sopa said he has used the scooters at least 10 times since they became available and hasn’t once been issued a ticket. 

“It’s a good way of getting around. It’s especially convenient for my girlfriend, who works three jobs and uses them as transportation between jobs,” Sopa said.

Riding along West Wisconsin Avenue on his way to work, Aric Agabekov expressed a similar sentiment. 

“I know it’s illegal but I’m not worried about getting a ticket. I’ve gone past a few cops already, and I have a lot of friends riding them,” he said. “Plus it saves money, it’s fast, and it’s more fun than biking.”

Agabekov believes Bird has dumped even more scooters around the city over the past week, ramping up its operations.

Reese Vanselow and Steve Belling, idling near a set of scooters during a lunch break, said they also noticed an increase in scooters.

“It looks like there are a lot more,” Vanselow said, adding that he hoped Bird wouldn’t clutter up the city. “In San Francisco, these scooters are like trash because they’re all over the place.”

Police do not seem to be issuing citations

Of the 10 people spoken to by the Journal Sentinel, none had received citations or heard of anyone receiving a citation for riding a scooter. 

Several noted that police had seen them riding and did not do anything about it. 

Police have not issued a statement on the citations. When asked for a comment, Milwaukee Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Sheronda Grant wrote, “I do not have any information on whether or not citations have been issued for the Byrd (sic) scooter.” 

Meanwhile, Alderman Robert Bauman voiced his disinterest in punishing riders at Wednesday’s meeting.

“This company has no objection if the customer pays the price,” he said. “But I’m not in favor of issuing tickets to everyone.”

Milwaukee residents seem to have picked up on the lack of enforcement.

Workers at Louise’s, an Italian restaurant downtown, said the entire staff took the scooters out for a ride around the block early Tuesday morning.

“It was a blast,” said staffer Anthony Dominski with a wide grin. “We’re not worried about getting fines. I can’t really imagine a cop chasing us down.”

Checking out a scooter right outside the restaurant, Joel Bruecker said he also wasn’t worried.

“If they want to enforce the ban, the city should just get rid of them,” he said. 

So what, exactly, are the rules?

Bird has four rules printed on the bottom of each scooter: riders must be over 18, have a valid driver’s license, stay off the sidewalk and not double-ride.

But in its user agreement, it stipulates many more rules. It asks riders to abide by helmet laws in the area, park scooters in public spaces and be sober while riding, among several guidelines.

It also stipulates that riders “follow all laws pertaining to the use … of the vehicle,” including all “state and local laws, rules and regulations.”

A confusing command from a company that has repeatedly broken state law, according to the City of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee argues in its lawsuit that Bird scooters are “motor vehicles” that do not meet federal safety equipment standards and are not registered in the state of Wisconsin, thus in violation of Wisconsin Statute 341.04. 

RELATED: In Nashville’s electric scooter debate, residents question ability to enforce violations

RELATED: Nashville to Bird: Remove all scooters from city rights-of-way by end of Wednesday or face impounding

The Public Works Committee stressed that, because the scooters are illegal under state law, the city cannot lift its ban. In the meantime, the ordinance will give them the authority to seize the scooters, Bauman said, “…put[ing] some structure to the process of how to deal with these things in the street.”

Bird disagrees with the city, arguing that scooters are designed for on-street use, just like bicycles, and should be regulated accordingly.

“Motorized scooters, like Bird, are neither defined nor prohibited by Wisconsin or Milwaukee law … As such, we believe that Milwaukee can move forward immediately with a pilot program,” a statement from Bird reads.

“However, removing Birds from the streets of Milwaukee, even temporarily, would have an unfortunate chilling effects on this increasingly popular transportation mode, effectively removing this option that has gotten so many in the city to reduce their reliance on cars for short trips.”

The company’s scooter-dumping strategy has inspired similar reactions from cities around the country, including San Francisco, which recently removed the scooters, and Nashville, Tennessee, which issued a cease-and-desist letter and seized over 250 scooters. 

Its latest target, New York City, simply doesn’t have space for the scooters, reports the New York Times. A spokesman for the city’s Transportation Department said they were illegal, according to the Times article, though it’s not being enforced.

In response to Milwaukee’s lawsuit, a Bird spokesperson wrote:

And what about Lime?

Similar to Bird, Lime is a dockless bikes-share and scooter-share startup valued at more than $1 billion. But unlike Bird, Lime has spent the past few months feeling out the city before launching.

RELATED: LimeBike pickup-and-go motorized scooters and bicycles could come to Milwaukee

The company presented to Milwaukee’s startup and tech communities in April at an event hosted by Startup Milwaukee, and May 4, it hosted a happy hour where people could test drive scooters and bikes.

“We don’t want to just show up,” a representative from Lime told the Journal Sentinel in April. “We want to make sure that — we show up, we’re wanted.”

If Lime comes to Milwaukee, it would likely only offer scooters, a spokesman said recently.

Lime is watching the lawsuit against Bird closely, as the federal court ruling would affect its own scooter-sharing operation. 

Operators of the locally run Bublr bikes are also watching the scooter developments. Bublr bikes use docking stations and the nonprofit service has about 87 stations in the city and several suburbs.

RELATED: Bublr Bikes stages fundraiser, works to build support as LimeBike considers Milwaukee

 

Read or Share this story: https://jsonl.in/2uwJ8qO



Source link

Please disable your adblock for read our content.
Refresh