Transportation Policy

Milwaukee Launches Lawsuit, Threatens Fines Over Dockless E-Scooters

Residents continue riding the scooters in a stirring display of civil disobedience.

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Coastlineproductions/Dreamstime.com

It's a familiar story by now: Dockless e-scooters pop up in a new city, people take to them immediately, and local officials, fearful of this unpermitted convenience, begin a crackdown. The latest battle is in Milwaukee, where the dockless e-scooter company Bird is being sued by the city for refusing to take its vehicles off the streets.

Bird, similiar to competitors Lime and Spin, has distributed thousands of motorized e-scooters on the streets of cities across America, where people can rent them via a smartphone app. Because they are dockless, they need not be picked up or dropped off at particularlocations.

In late June, Bird dropped 100 scooters in Milwaukee's downtown, to the delight of city residents, who have rented the vehicles more than 6,900 times. Less happy were city officials, who declared the Bird scooters unregistered motor vehicles that did not meet federal safety standards and therefore could not legally be operated on Milwaukee's sidewalks or streets.

The week that Bird launched in Milwaukee, Deputy City Attorney Adam Stevens sent the company a letter demanding that it cease and desist. When Bird chose instead to persist and resist, the city sued.

Bird has decided to fight the lawsuit while extending an olive branch to the city. A company spokesperson told the website Smart Cities Dive that Bird "respectfully disagrees" with the claim that its scooters are unlawful but nevertheless looks "forward to working with the city to create and enforce common sense rules encouraging the safe use of our sustainable transportation option."

The Milwaukee Common Council has chosen to ratchet up tensions instead. At a meeting on Wednesday, the council advanced a measure empowering the city to impound Bird scooters, while refusing to hear comments from a company representative who was present. The city also has threatened e-scooter riders with $100 tickets.

It's a bizarre attitude for a city government so concerned about downtown connectivity that it's building a $128 million, 2.5-mile streetcar line. Many Milwaukee residents take a different view, continuing to zip around on Bird's scooters with reckless disregard for the picayune demands of Wisconsin's motor vehicle code.

Yesterday the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published a survey of Bird riders who were either blissfully unaware of or totally unconcerned about the city's e-scooter ban. "I know it's illegal, but I'm not worried about getting a ticket," said one rider. "I've gone past a few cops already, and I have a lot of friends riding them." Another Bird customer told the paper, "It was a blast. We're not worried about getting fines. I can't really imagine a cop chasing us down."

Milwaukee police declined to say how many people, if any, they had ticketed. The Journal-Sentinel, which talked to ten riders, found none who had heard of anyone who got a ticket.

The contrast between the political consternation that has greeted dockless e-scooters in courtrooms and city halls and the mostly positive reactions from residents on city streets is telling. The crackdown on these services has far more to do with local governments throwing their weight around than with mitigating any negative impact from the new transportation service.

"You got to follow the rules," Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman said on Wednesday. "This company is basically giving the city of Milwaukee the middle finger. When the law is changed, I'm more than willing to sit down with [Bird]."

Milwaukee politicians have said that Bird needs to get permission from the state legislature before its vehicles can be allowed on city streets. Until that happens or the city's lawsuit is resolved, residents of Milwaukee will continue to quietly flip the bird to city hall as they zip around town on their dockless contraband.

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70 responses to “Milwaukee Launches Lawsuit, Threatens Fines Over Dockless E-Scooters

  1. “Residents continue riding the scooters in a stirring display of civil disobedience.”

    …including when they ride to the polls to re-elect the incumbents?

    1. I’m not going to trust anyone who rides a scooter to make reasonable decisions.

      1. BUCS, do you think Christian owns a Segway? I totally imagine Christian on a Segway.

        1. Having seen his most recent Twitter photo, he 100% drives a Cadillac.

              1. With horns mounted on the hood.

                1. Fuck, why can’t I just read the next fucking comment before adding my own?

              2. With steer horns on the hood?

  2. This situation once again demonstrates how government, not anarchy, is more likely to create chaos, less peace, and less prosperity.

    1. Was going to say the same thing. Government wants to spend millions or billions on a static rigid system that doesn’t solve anything except a lust for power and empty pockets which contractors can fill. Little company comes in, drops off scooters for no tax investment, makes people happy,

      Like all the idiots wanting government to solve racism with affirmative action, when government created slavery, government created Jim Crow, government still has racial quotas.

      1. Yup.

      2. “Anarchy is no guarantee that some people won’t kill, injure, kidnap, defraud, or steal from others. Government is a guarantee that some will” – Gustave de Molinari, maybe

        1. Quoting Molinari….this is why I like you, even though you are a cat person.

        2. It doesn’t HAVE to. Make government follow the NAP and it can’t.

          1. It can’t. It taxes and tries to enforce a monopoly on the use of force. Both are violations of NAP.

            Government covets, steals, and murders.

            1. The only thing government is even half good at is violence in pursuit of survival, and even there it’s pretty inefficient and incompetent.

      3. It’s a bizarre attitude for a city government so concerned about downtown connectivity that it’s building a $128 million, 2.5-mile streetcar line.

        Exactly. It’s not bizarre at all that the city is freaking out. If some private company can dump a fleet of $1000 scooters downtown, at their own expense, and solve the transit problem thusly, the city will look like a complete laughingstock.

  3. “Bird “respectfully disagrees” with the claim that its scooters are unlawful but nevertheless looks “forward to working with the city to create and enforce common sense rules” — Translated: Bird looks forward to working with the city to develop laws that would limit competition.

    “It’s a bizarre attitude for a city government so concerned about downtown connectivity that it’s building a $128 million, 2.5-mile streetcar line” — Is it really bizarre? It sounds like they are concerned about a competitor that offers a more convenient service at a better price than their streetcar.

    “This company is basically giving the city of Milwaukee the middle finger. When the law is changed, I’m more than willing to sit down with [Bird].” — Translated: You get nothing until you’ve kissed the ring.

    1. “It’s a bizarre attitude for a city government so concerned about downtown connectivity that it’s building a $128 million, 2.5-mile streetcar line” — Is it really bizarre? It sounds like they are concerned about a competitor that offers a more convenient service at a better price than their streetcar.

      And it also denies what seems to be the only thing a streetcar has over a bus. A strictly defined service area, that cannot be changed, and thus controls how people move.

      1. Buses are for garbage people. Rail is for cool people. I think that’s the main difference.

        1. Maybe. Maybe that’s the feeling. I do love attributing a huge amount of bullshit to hatred of poor people.

          1. Many of the world’s problems would disappear if there were no poor people so it only seems proper to hate them.

            1. So would obesity in this country. Our poor seem to be the fattest among us. Thank goodness we cured hunger in our country, at least.

    2. The ring isn’t what he wants kissed. He wants something else sucked to satisfaction.

    3. Spot on!

    4. I’m not basically giving them the finger. I am literally giving them the finger. On each hand.

  4. So a maximum of 6,900 residents like them. And I’m sure no one, no one at all, has found them obstructing public rights if way.

    1. They should just kill those 6,900 residents, and then no one will be around to rent them. That’s a free market solution.

      1. You could wait for winter. The white stuff would cover up the tracks forever, and the bodies for a while.

    2. no one, no one at all, has found them obstructing public rights if way.

      I know, right? It’s such a hassle to have to move over a couple of feet to avoid tripping over an e-scooter when walking down a sidewalk.

      1. I do hate it when a motorcyclist thinks the sidewalk is his personal parking space. I know thats different than a bicycle

      2. How many companies get to just dump shit on sidewalks now? Can they leave their trash or only their advertisements?

        1. Kinda like when a government decides which mode of transportation the deem fit and force me to pay for it whether I use it or not. On top of it, their enforced choice slows down my preferred transportation.

    3. And I’m sure no one, no one at all, has found them obstructing public rights if way.

      In that way, scooters are like your holier-than-thou fat ass.

    4. By the way, you ignorant statist moron, in no way does 6900 rentals equal a maximum of 6900 residents liking the scooters.

    5. Do they really pbstruct anything?

      Just because one is on the sidewalk and you might have to detour around it doesn’t mean its obstructing anything in any meaningful sense that couldn’t be applied to everyone on the sidewalk.

      1. And its almost like when I have to walk around those pesky cars people park on the street.

    6. And I’m sure no one, no one at all, has found them obstructing public rights if way.

      It is inherent that vehicles and pedestrians “obstruct public rights of way”. That’s why the concept of “right of way” exists: to provide a basis for determining who can occupy a rivalrous position in spacetime. Unless you belief that your car/bike/body is able to occupy the same space and the same instant as mine.

      I can only presume you’re a reflexive misanthrope, because this is like complaining that other people’s water is wet.

  5. I wonder how many times Britches typed dickless.

  6. Byrd’s onto to something with the eco-friendly sustainable bullshit, I trust their spokesperson is a handicapped black transgendered Muslim immigrant.

    1. BTW, if they don’t have one, I’ll self-identify as a handicapped black transgendered Muslim immigrant for a suitable fee.

      1. LOL! Why, it’s your RIGHT to identify as anything you wish, so why not? That’s what the LBGT and many other alphabet letters are demanding. I myself, will identify as a white, semi-privileged, work-my-ass off-to-get-what-I-have, tall, blonde, tomboy, small business owner of the female gender, married to a similar person of the male gender.

        I expect everybody who is not me, to refer to me as she, her, wife, my given feminine name etc., so they won’t have to worry about ‘offending’ me.

    2. Jesus Christ, you can’t engage with anything at all without turning it into some tribal bullshit, can you? I hope you become addicted to autoerotic asphyxiation.

  7. It’s a bizarre attitude for a city government so concerned about downtown connectivity that it’s building a $128 million, 2.5-mile streetcar line.

    Not that surprising. There’s no opportunity for graft, cronyism and corruption. A street car line, on the other hand…

    “You got to follow the rules,” Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman said on Wednesday. “This company is basically giving the city of Milwaukee the middle finger. When the law is changed, I’m more than willing to sit down with [Bird].”

    Milwaukee politicians have said that Bird needs to get permission from the state legislature before its vehicles can be allowed on city streets.

    Bird disrespected their AUTHORITAH, and failed to ask permission and follow orders first. What did think, that this was a free country or something?

  8. “Hey, there’s this great new thing that can provide easy last-mile connectivity for people visiting or working downtown and it will reduce traffic and parking congestion in the core area.”

    “What?! Ban it! Ban it right now!”

    ‘Why?!”

    “Because if it’s that easy to use to get around, no one will see the need for this expensive transit system. And then we might not be able to get it built. And if we’re not able to build it, we can’t spend money on it. And if we can’t spend money on it we can’t go way, way over budget and if we can’t go over budget we can’t siphon off as much money for ourselves or our cronies! So ban this damn thing already!”

    “Yes sir!”

    1. Gentlemen, we need to save our phony-baloney jobs!

  9. “I can’t really imagine a cop chasing us down.”

    These e-scooters are faster than a speeding bullet?

    1. They’re 15mph – so faster than the bus or the gold plated lite rail.

    2. thats only because all the riders are white urbanist. get one kid of color on a scoter and its code 3, clear all channels we got a runner.

  10. “It’s a bizarre attitude for a city … building a $128 million, 2.5-mile streetcar ”

    What is ‘bizarre’ about government squelching competition for Tom Barrett’s Trolley Folly? Milwaukee needs millions of paid rides to cover the initial and continuing costs, and there will never be that many. Especially if they allow competition that is convenient and efficient.

  11. building a $128 million, 2.5-mile streetcar

    Or spend a small fraction of that and add more buses and routes.

    And don’t buy the huge 40’+ buses! Get the shuttle sized ones that don’t make as much noise, can turn easier, and are more appropriate for use on residential streets.

    Sure that means more drivers, but you also have more flexibility.

    1. Sure that means more drivers

      From the perspective of the transit people this seems like a real winner. I mean, more unionised bodies to lord it over…

  12. here again the government does not like competition. someone solved a city problem that the city wants to solve by selling contracts to cronies for far more than it cost

    1. I forgot if the city doesn’t have bike lanes then all bikes are a hazard so lets spend millions more getting rid of car lanes so we can have a few bike lanes to no where

  13. I’m not sure the city is in the wrong here. I don’t think we can reasonably have companies just leaving their products unattended on a sidewalk in hopes people will rent them. The sidewalk is not Bird’s parking lot.

    And if state law says you can’t operate your product legally, you get the law changed *before* introducing them, not after. Or you change your product to comply with the law. (I admit I’m not sure about the legality; it probably depends on things like whether they are limited to 15 MPH and can be considered an “electric personal assistive mobility device”, and I don’t feel like poring through all the relevant laws and device specifications.)

    1. what would the city do if the people just started showing up in their own bikes legally no different then renting.

    2. You don’t seem to understand how our legal system works.

      You don’t need permission to do things that aren’t explicitly forbidden.

  14. Bird dropped in Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago, and everyone has been losing their minds, except the people who rent the scooters. And the politicians have already built out miles of bike lanes through the city, and electric scooters are already allowed to use those lanes, so no problem there – although the bicycle mafia isn’t probably too pleased, but fuck those guys. But I want to know where the $128 million cost for the 2.5 mile street car comes from – – that is cheap. They are trying hard to build a 15 mile light rail line to the southwest of Minneapolis, and they are quoting that at $2.5 billion, and rising.

    1. Roads are about $12M/mile
      This rail is $166.666M/mile

      Some is either A: Smoking crack, and lots of it, or; B: Someone is building up their ‘retirement’ fund, or; C. All of the above.

      1. I agree 100%. And the interesting thing is that when it comes to progressives and trains, no amount of cost is prohibitive. The train could cost $50 billion, and they would build it anyways.

      2. All of the above. Looks like the city is trying to get rid of those Bird droppings

      3. All of the above. Looks like the city is trying to get rid of those Bird droppings

      4. All of the above. Looks like the city is trying to get rid of those Bird droppings

      5. All of the above. Looks like the city is trying to get rid of those Bird droppings

  15. At a meeting on Wednesday, the council advanced a measure empowering the city to impound Bird scooters, while refusing to hear comments from a company representative who was present.

    The arrogance is just stunning.

  16. Of course they want the Bird gone! They will be competition for their overly expensive, 2.5 mile trolley line the city is taxing the residents for. That’s what this is all about. Getting rid of the competition.

  17. Nothing in the Wisconsin constitution allows for government to ban anything.

    Even the Prohibitionists knew they needed a constituional amendment to ban nationwide alcohol consumption.

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