Electric scooter rentals debut in Twin Cities; Mpls. eyes regulation

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Bird scooters parked along Seventh Street in St. Paul.
Bird scooters parked along Seventh Street at Cedar Street in St. Paul on Tuesday.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Updated 6:46 p.m. | Posted 8:45 a.m.

Minneapolis took a step Tuesday to regulate low-power electric scooters as the vehicles and the ride services behind them become suddenly visible across the Twin Cities.

Bird scooters began showing up on Twin Cities sidewalks by the dozens before rush hour Tuesday, part of a nationwide wave of low-cost, app-based shared transportation alternatives.

The company had suggested it was planning to expand to Minnesota in online ads, but it wasn't clear exactly when that would happen until company personnel started putting the scooters out on sidewalks.

The ID code on a Bird scooter's handlecars.
The ID code on a Bird scooter's handlebars is used to rent and activate the scooters.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

The California-based company's app initially showed the scooters in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, along Summit and University avenues and in northeast Minneapolis.

Birds are now available across downtown and north Minneapolis, as well as downtown and Frogtown in St. Paul, the company said Tuesday, adding that it will adjust the number and scope of the scooters based on demand.

The St. Paul Department of Public Works released a statement Tuesday evening saying they had asked Bird to remove the scooters from the city's "public Right-of-Way" — which includes streets and sidewalks — citing an ordinance which prohibits obstruction of these public spaces without a permit.

"We are really excited about the possibilities of new, innovative, shared methods of getting around," said Public Works Director Kathy Lantry in the statement. "However, we need to be thoughtful about how these new options are placed and used."

The department expects the work it is already engaged in around potential dockless bicycles will help inform a decision on the scooters.

After discussing the issue with city officials, "Bird has indicated that they will review the city's request," the statement said.

The scooters are rented via a phone-based app that collects payment information, asks for personal identification, and tracks usage of the scooter.

The app also requires a multi-step user agreement that says riders have to wear helmets, have a valid driver's license and other requirements. The initial cost is $1, with another 15 cents a minute to ride.

The deployment came the same day the Minneapolis City Council's Transportation and Public works Committee unanimously approved an ordinance to regulate what the city describes as low-power foot scooters.

The ordinance calls for an agreement with the city and allows Minneapolis to impound unlicensed or illegally parked scooters.

The measure must still go before the full City Council for approval. A vote is expected on July 20.

The scooters have sparked controversy in other places around the country, with some cities complaining about riders zipping along sidewalks, riding unsafely in traffic and leaving the scooters in places where they block foot and other traffic.

Officials in Denver seized hundreds of the scooters in June from Bird and Lime, another scooter rental company. They also threatened fines ranging up to $1,000 per scooter, according to news reports.

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