A proposed ordinance regulating “low power vehicles” aimed to get Minneapolis out ahead of the fast-growing scooter-sharing industry — but the scooters got here first.
Bird, a company with scooter-sharing operations in 22 U.S. cities, deployed dozens of its electric-powered motorized scooters in Minneapolis and St. Paul July 10. Later that same day, a City Council committee debated an ordinance that would regulate Bird and any similar company planning to operate a scooter-sharing business here.
Bird requires users to first download an app, which allows users to locate a nearby scooter and then pay for a ride. At launch, rental fees totaled $1 per trip, plus 15 cents per mile. The user agreement requires riders to be at least 18 years old, and renting a scooter requires scanning a valid drivers license with a smart phone. When finished, users simply park the scooter on the sidewalk.
The company says scooter-sharing can reduce congestion and carbon emissions by replacing short car trips. The scooters travel up to 15 mph.
In a press release announcing its arrival, Bird said it’s responding to “an urgent need for additional transit options that are accessible, affordable, and reliable for all residents and local communities,” adding that its scooter-rental business is designed around “short ‘last-mile’ trips that are too long to walk, but too short to drive.”
State law generally treats motorized foot scooters like bicycles, requiring users to ride in the street “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.” Unlike bicycles, the operation of motorized foot scooters is prohibited on all sidewalks. Motorized scooter riders also are not allowed to use the left turn lane as a cyclist would; instead, state law instructs riders to stop at the right-hand curb, wait for traffic to clear and cross the roadway on foot, as a pedestrian.
Approved July 10 by the Transportation and Public Works Committee, the proposed city ordinance would set the rules for where motorized foot scooters and other low powered vehicles can be parked in the public right of way. It would also require the businesses to acquire a license or a contract with the city before entering the local market.
Ward 1 City Council Member Kevin Reich, the chair of the committee, appealed scooter-sharing operators to contact the city and work with staff.
“It really is a welcoming, help-not-hinder kind of gesture that we’re trying to do,” he said.
A spokesperson for Bird said the company “has submitted the necessary paperwork to operate as a business in each of the Twin Cities.”
“We look forward to working closely with the Twin Cities so that Bird is a reliable, affordable, and environmentally friendly transportation option,” the statement continued.
Noting the problems faced in San Francisco, Santa Monica and Washington, D.C. — three cities where scooter-sharing debuted in late 2017 and early 2018 — Jon Wertjes, director of traffic and parking services for the Department of Public Works, said the city aimed to take a “proactive approach” with the low powered vehicles ordinance, one that would both welcome and establish a regulatory framework for Bird and its competitors.
“Similar to bike-sharing, these scooter operators have often deployed scooters independently resulting in significant disruption and backlash,” Wertjes said. “This disruption included improper riding and parking of scooters in areas which impede and endanger pedestrians, as well as the damage and or vandalism to scooters on public and private property.”
The City of St. Paul responded very differently to the arrival of Bird. In a statement, the city asked Bird to remove the scooters from the public right of way “until a framework can be created for their deployment.” Two days later, the app showed dozens of scooters were still available in St. Paul.
City Council President Lisa Bender said Minneapolis aimed to have “a collaborative and not an oppositional relationship with new companies that are coming to offer transportation options in our city.”
“As far as I’m concerned, as long as these scooters are not impeding pedestrians and folks are able to operate them safely, I think they’re a welcome addition to our transportation system,” she said.