Stand-up electric scooters are back in Milwaukee, after about a year-long hiatus. This time, they’re hitting the streets in a framework approved by city leaders. The company Lime has rolled out 500 scooters in various neighborhoods this week, as part of a pilot program.
The Lime scooters look like an electric skateboard, outfitted with a pole that attaches to handlebars. You can find one for rent by going online or using an app. It costs $1 to unlock the scooter, and 25 cents a minute to use it. The scooters travel up to 15 miles per hour.
Early on Wednesday, I walked to Milwaukee’s Third Ward to look for scooter users. Like a superhero in the distance, I saw a rider careening down Water Street. Karl Schroepfer stopped at a red light, and I flagged him down, to ask why he chose this method of transportation.
"So, in my case, I just needed to get all the way across the city real quick," he explains. "I don’t drive to work, so, I saw these out yesterday and it was better than trying to do Uber or something like that.”
Last summer without the city’s permission, Bird Rides dropped off hundreds of similar dockless scooters in Milwaukee. Drivers, pedestrians, and some aldermen complained about riders using the scooters on sidewalks or in traffic, and leaving them scattered in walkways when done with rentals. That led to a legal fight between the city and the company.
Since then, the city has created rules for dockless scooters, and Lime is the first to join the pilot program. The rules say people can’t use the scooters on the sidewalks, or park them in ways that obstruct pedestrians.
Rider Schroepfer says things seem to be working well. "So far it doesn’t seem like it’s a problem. I’ve seen — online — people talking about it being a pain for some people in other cities. But, so far, it seems like people are good about not throwing them on the sidewalk or anything, they’re kinda kept tucked away."
The city rules also say scooter riders need to follow traffic laws and are encouraged to use helmets. Violators may be hit with fines ranging from $10-20 dollars.
I asked other people near downtown Milwaukee what they think about the scooters. Ninous Hinaro was relaxing with a bloody mary and beer chaser outdoors at Café Benelux before a work obligation. He says while sitting there, he saw a guy riding a scooter in traffic almost wipe out as he turned the corner too fast.
"He quickly jumped off it and tried to get a grip with his two feet, but barely made it. I don’t think he hit the ground, but it came close," Hinaro explains.
But would he use it? "Absolutely," Hinaro says. "So, I’m actually from Chicago and we have the same thing going on there. It’s the same set up, it’s growing fast. I would use it from getting from the train station to where I work."
The city’s public works department says it hopes the rented scooters help make that first or last leg of a trip easier. I caught up with a woman named Linda from New Zealand as she got off the streetcar at the Milwaukee Public Market. She stopped in the area on her way to the EAA air show in Oshkosh. Linda says she could see using the scooters in some situations, but not today — with luggage in tow.
"I guess I would, yes, definitely, if it was a quicker option of getting from point A to point B. But not with suitcases," she says. "Noooo! Backpacks perhaps, but not with suitcases."
The city’s pilot program for dockless scooters launched on Tuesday and runs through the end of the year. Several other companies are expected to introduce their scooters to Milwaukee streets in the coming months, competing for their corner of the scooter rental market.