Dockless Scooter Scuffle (copy)

A man parks his rented dockless scooter outside of a restaurant in Atlanta on June 26. Cities across the U.S. are grappling with how to deal with electric scooters that have begun appearing in sidewalks overnight without any regulations. 

A bill legalizing electric scooters is heading to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk, but scooter-sharing companies should not be dropping off fleets in Madison anytime soon.

The Wisconsin state Assembly approved a bill on a voice vote Thursday that would allow electric scooters, like a motorized version of the Razor scooter that was popular in the early 2000s, to operate on roadways.

Under the bill, people who own an electric scooter — defined as a device that weighs less than 100 pounds with handlebars and an electric motor, is powered by the motor and driver, and has a max speed of 20 miles per-hour — would be able to use them legally on streets and bike paths.

“It’s good to have clarification around these new technologies,” said Renee Callaway, the city’s pedestrian bicycle administrator.

But Callaway said electric scooters could cause concerns of safety and parking if they become popular and a well-used mode of transportation.

If enacted, the change in state law could open the door to electric scooter sharing companies like Bird and Lime eventually operating in Madison. The City Council approved an ordinance in 2018 that outlaws scooter ride-sharing companies from operating in the city until a pilot study is conducted.

“If they did arrive, they would not be here legally,” Callaway said. “We would ask them to leave and then if they did not, we would probably remove them.”

The bill would also allow local governments to regulate the rental and operation of electric scooters on roadways, sidewalks and bike paths. This would include restricting or prohibiting the short-term commercial rental of electric scooters. 

"I am glad that the bill allows for local control, so we can really make the decision that works best," Council President Shiva Bidar said.  

Last fall, scooter operators drew criticism from cities after “dumping” fleets of the motorized vehicles in urban settings, catalyzing conflicts with pedestrians and motor vehicle traffic.

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The scooters are rented via mobile apps, which allow customers to locate, unlock, ride and park them anywhere. That differentiates the scooter services from bike share companies like BCycle, which require users to retrieve bikes from docking stations.  

Scooters left on sidewalks or in other places can impede the public right of way. This is problematic for pedestrians, especially those with limited mobility, and for other street uses like vending.

“It raises some real serious concerns about a reduction in accessibility for people in our city,” Callaway said.  

Bidar said the next steps for city policymakers would be to decide whether to conduct a pilot program or not, and what such a program might look like. The city would likely want to work with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, given the student population's likely use of electric scooters.

"We have this specific population that is in and around campus and in the central city that we need to consider," Bidar said. 

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.