There’s a new battleground in the wars pitting transportation alternatives against cities. Milwaukee recently took legal action against Bird, a privately-operated dockless scooter company that is one of many trying to colonize city streets, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
California-based Bird dropped off 100 motorized scooters in downtown Milwaukee last month, but Deputy City Attorney Adam Stephens wrote a letter to the company warning that “Bird’s Motorized Scooters may NOT be lawfully operated on any public street or sidewalk in the City of Milwaukee.” According to the complaint, Bird refused to cease operations, leading to the lawsuit.
Bird sees it differently. “We respectfully disagree with the city’s contention that operation of any electric scooter in the state of Wisconsin is unlawful,” a Bird spokesperson told Smart Cities Dive.
These rental electric scooters operate in the same way as dockless bikes—scooters are left throughout the city and customers can unlock one using an app on their phone. Following the ride, customers leave it on the street or sidewalk for the next person to use. Bird charges a fee of $1 to unlock the bike and $0.15 per minute thereafter.
Other companies in the dockless vehicle-sharing industry, including Lime and Spin, have invested in dockless scooters. Major companies have seen the potential in this form of micromobility. Uber recently invested $335 million into Lime and bought Jump, and Lyft bought Motivate, parent company to Citi Bike. These acquisitions have been touted as a way to solve the first-and-last-mile problem and consolidate transportation options under one umbrella.
But the controversy over regulatory issues for these new modes of transport has stopped companies from moving fully forward. Dockless vehicle companies have infiltrated cities from Miami to San Francisco, only to subsequently have cease and desist orders issued against them. As is the case in Milwaukee, one of the main concerns is the lack of designated space for these scooters. Without a dock, it becomes easy for scooters (and bikes) to pile up on the streets and create both an aesthetic and safety issue. Milwaukee officials began complaining once seeing the scooters littering on the sidewalks and outside public buildings, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Cities are scrambling to find a way to regulate this new mode of transport and are even cracking down on it, much like in the early days of ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft. San Francisco ordered the removal of the scooters until the start of an official permit program and Denver seized more than 250 scooters.
Bird has faced legal trouble in other cities before for not complying with city orders, including in Santa Monica, San Francisco, Denver, Miami, Nashville, and Austin. A hearing is scheduled for this Friday, at which time the city will be seeking a temporary injunction to remove the scooters immediately.