The Ann Arbor Transportation Commission met Wednesday evening to discuss the presence of Bird scooters in the city, among other agenda items. Ann Arbor residents and University of Michigan students have used the motorized scooters around the city since their deployment Friday. The commission weighed allowing the scooters on city streets in the near future.
Bird dropped the scooters in Ann Arbor without notice to the city, a practice that the company has become known for at many of its locations all over the United States. City officials were caught off guard and forced to deal with the presence of the scooters the following day.
The commission meeting followed a response from the city publicly warning residents that use of the scooters could merit a ticket. However, the response of the commission was more measured and Commissioner Linda Diane Feldt characterized the city’s response as “short and threatening.”
“My sense of the commission is that we want to be welcoming of devices that expand the choices that people have for transportation,” Feldt said.
The committee heard from Raymond Hess, the Ann Arbor transportation manager, who noted existing legislation will soon regulate electric skateboards and allow their use in city streets. The scooters are similar devices, and Hess stated the city will likely regulate them in the same way.
However, this legislation was written before the Bird scooters appeared in Ann Arbor, so it is possible the city will adjust its regulatory agenda after considering the visible impact of the devices.
Commissioner Scott Trudeau expressed interest in imposing a tax on the scooters, noting the city of Portland, Ore., is projected to collect more than $1 million this year on a similar tax. Trudeau also stated imposing a limit on the total number of scooters in the city could be a reliable way to prevent the influx of devices from overwhelming the city. He also noted the possibility of placing speed limiters in the scooters corresponding to local speed limits.
He further expressed a desire to ensure the scooters were available for use to all parts of the city, not just the wealthiest corners.
Ann Arbor resident Victoria Green was the only resident to speak about the scooters during the public comment portion of the meeting. She expressed concern over the city’s response but holds reservations about the possible impact of the scooters’ presence.
“I was surprised when the city’s response to the wide-scale implementation of Bird scooters was an outright prohibition,” Green said. “I think Ann Arbor is best for most people when we have a variety of transportation options. I do share concerns that I’ve heard among many of my friends in the University about the sudden appearance of large numbers and issues especially around using public space to store them.”
Steve Dolan, director of University Transportation Services, expressed frustration with the company for dropping the fleet of scooters without notice. He noted several similar companies had reached out to the city requesting to expand their business to Ann Arbor, receiving responses stating the city is supportive of such transportation companies but needed to prepare infrastructure or legislation first. Bird ignored this request. Hess stated other companies attempting to “play by the rules” have now contacted the city upset about Bird’s presence in Ann Arbor.
Trudeau noted the city is already attempting to find solutions to similar problems posed by other forms of transportation and stated these efforts could be easily expanded to include Bird scooters.
“I think a lot of the problems that these things potentially generate are problems we’re already trying to solve,” Trudeau said.
Commissioner Bradley Parson echoed this sentiment and said the city should consider how the scooters fit into existing laws — they are technically neither vehicles nor motorized — before imposing new regulations.
“This is a gray area and I encourage the city staff response to allow things to develop instead of react quickly,” Parsons said.
At the close of the discussion, Feldt asked the members to consider what action to take with respect to the scooters. Feldt proposed the commission create a charter for a task force or advisory committee to aid the city in dealing with the scooters and the commission resolved to do so.