Electric scooters for rent remained on the sidewalks of St. Paul Wednesday, despite the city’s demand to a California company that it remove them from the public right of way.
Bird Rides Inc. dropped the scooters into the Twin Cities without official permission this week, and people were already taking them out for a spin while officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul scrambled to react.
Scooters shifted around downtown Wednesday as people got on board. Scooters that in the morning were parked outside of Amsterdam Bar and Hall, across the street from the George Latimer Central Library and in front of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts were gone by late afternoon.
According to the St. Paul Department of Public Works, Bird placed the scooters within the public right of way without a permit, in violation of city ordinance. City officials want to figure out how to regulate the scooters and have asked Bird to remove them in the interim.
“We wanted to convey to them that we are interested in what they’re doing and what they have to offer,” said Ellen Biales, administrative programs manager for public works. “However, we need to sit down and talk about what parameters need to be around that.”
City officials have not given Bird a timeline for removing the scooters, Biales said. The city could remove the scooters if Bird doesn’t, she said, although she emphasized that nothing has been decided. Shortly after 5 p.m., she said the city had heard nothing from the company.
In a statement, Bird said the company reached out to St. Paul officials before deploying the scooters. The conversation with city officials Tuesday afternoon was “productive,” the statement said.
Whether Bird complies with the city’s demand remains to be seen. The company has a habit of descending on cities without permission and ignoring requests to leave.
Scooters arrived in Milwaukee in late June, in violation of state law, said Sandy Rusch Walton, communications manager for the city’s public works department. The city has filed a lawsuit against Bird, she said, and people who ride the scooters risk a nearly $100 fine.
Minnesota law allows people to ride scooters on public roads and in areas reserved for bicycles. The Minneapolis City Council will vote June 20 on an ordinance that would require companies to obtain a license to operate motorized scooters in the city.
St. Paul started discussions with dockless bicycle companies early this year and the city is creating guidelines that could also apply to scooters, Biales said. But right now, she said, there’s no information about how many scooters are in St. Paul, or even whom the city should contact if problems arise.
“We have not had really any communication from them about what their operations are here,” Biales said. “The scooters basically appeared.”
As in Minneapolis, people riding the scooters around downtown St. Paul said they’re excited about the new gadgets. It didn’t seem to bother them that the scooter era began without city permission.
St. Paul residents Gage Reagan, Grant Hauswirth and Scott Atkinson tried out scooters for the first time near the Wabasha Street Bridge. They took off down Kellogg Boulevard without a destination in mind — “Just kind of exploring,” Reagan said.
Mark Paulson, a St. Paul resident who works downtown, said he and his friends from work all love the scooters. They’re affordable, fast and fun to use, he said.
“If there were more of these, maybe I wouldn’t use a car,” Paulson said before taking off. He was heading home, he said — he’d left his car in the ramp across the street.