A Federal Court Will Deal With the Latest Flashpoint in the E-Scooter Wars

Bird scooters use an app to lock and unlock them.

Bird scooters use an app to lock and unlock them. Shutterstock


Connecting state and local government leaders

As Bird and other companies feel local regulatory heat across the nation, a recent legal action in Milwaukee is worth watching.

Among the cities that have taken action against the unauthorized deployment of dockless battery-powered scooters has been Milwaukee, which filed a lawsuit against Bird Rides Inc. on July 6 after the Santa Monica, California-based company launched in Wisconsin’s largest city in late June. Milwaukee’s deputy city attorney had written a letter to Bird asking the company to cease its operations, a request that was ignored.

The city’s complaint against Bird, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, cites a Wisconsin state statute that allows fines of $200 for anyone using an unregistered scooter on a public roadway.

The case was scheduled to be heard in Milwaukee County Circuit Court on Friday, but Wisconsin Public Radio reported that Bird requested that the complaint be moved to federal court and that the case will continue there.

Bird operates its scooter-share systems in more than 20 U.S. cities and is in the middle of a “red hot” market, which includes competitors Lime and Spin, all of which have been racing to raise more capital for expansion across the U.S. This past week, Uber and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, announced that they’re spearheading a $335 million investment in San Mateo, California-based Lime.

Critics of dockless scooter-share systems have bemoaned the electric vehicles bringing clutter and obstructions to public rights of way.  But proponents out the mobility advantages e-scooters have in congested urban areas, especially for short trips, and for closing first- and last-mile gaps.

The deployment of scooters has, in many cases, caught municipal governments off guard. Local officials have scrambled to write new rules or rewrite existing ones to either ban the use of the scooters or accomodate them. In recent days, Bird pulled its scooters from the streets of Indianapolis after the city started confiscating their vehicles.

Officials in St. Paul, Minnesota asked Bird to remove its scooters from public rights of way “until a framework for their deployment” can be sorted out by the city.

“We are really excited about the possibilities of new, innovative, shared methods of getting around,” Kathy Lantry, St. Paul’s public works director, said in a statement. “However, we need to be thoughtful about how these new options are placed and used.”

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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