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Milwaukee prepared to begin seizing Bird scooters as soon as possible

Posted at 4:42 PM, Jul 18, 2018

A city committee on Tuesday advanced a proposal giving officials the authority to seize electric Bird scooters from public streets and sidewalks. 

The Public Works Committee passed policy that "prohibits the parking of dockless motorized scooters in the city upon the public right-of-way. In addition, this ordinance prohibits the operation of dockless motorized scooter systems in the city." 

Committee members also passed a resolution instructing the Department of Public Works to conduct a dockless motorized scooter pilot study. The pilot study will run until Dec. 31, 2019 unless otherwise reauthorized by the Common Council.

"The Commissioner of Public Works will evaluate the results and effectiveness of dockless motorized scooters in the city and provide a report to the common council prior the end of the pilot study. The pilot study will not begin until that state statutes are amended to allow the operation of motorized scooters in the public right-of-way," the measure reads. 

Both items must still pass the full common council and then be signed into effect by Mayor Tom Barrett. 

Deputy City Attorney Adam Stephens said, if the proposal is approved, the city could begin seizing all scooters on public streets and sidewalks the day after the Mayor signs it. 

Ald. Bob Bauman said the proposal would effectively ban all electric scooters in the city unless they were being operated as part of the aforementioned pilot study. 

Bauman said the City of Milwaukee doesn't have the authority to allow Bird scooters because they're illegal under state law. That's why Milwaukee is suing Bird and asking the company to remove its scooters from public spaces. 

Before the Public Works Committee Wednesday, Stephens said Bird scooters are a motor vehicle according to state statute, but they are not able to be legally registered and titled like other vehicles because they don't meet federally-required safety certifications. 

Stephens said he believes the only way Bird can legally operate in Wisconsin is if state lawmakers carve out an exemption to state law much like they did for Segway devices in 2001. 

But Bird disagrees. A representative for the company wasn't allowed to address the public works committee but did provide TODAY'S TMJ4 with remarks prepared ahead of time. 

"Bird appreciates and shares your commitment to keeping Milwaukee's streets and sidewalks safe for all users," the remarks said. 

"Motorized scooters, like Birds, are neither defined nor prohibited by Wisconsin or Milwaukee law. We ask that the City of Milwaukee seek clarification from the state of Wisconsin that Bird scooters are exempt from registration, like bicycles and motor bicycles," the remarks said. 

While the dispute continues, some Milwaukee pedestrians are becoming frustrated at the lack of regulations on the electric scooters. 

Emails attached to the agenda for Wednesday's meeting detail complaints about Bird riders on sidewalks. 

Megan Cochran alleges she was hit by a Bird rider while walking on the sidewalk off Farwell Ave. just south of Brady St. 

"The person that hit me did not stop," she said. "He just waived, like, 'I'm sorry.'" 

Cochran is 30-weeks pregnant. 

"The scooter hit my left side and I just stumbled off the sidewalk and into a tree," she said. 

Cochran said she hasn't hired an attorney and was not seriously injured. But she told TODAY'S TMJ4 she hopes the scooters can be better-regulated. 

"I don't like them, personally," she said.