Scooters swoop onto campus

Bird and Lime scooters came to Minneapolis in mid-July, and the University of Minnesota is currently in discussions about usage on campus.

Dayshawn Brown uses his phone to pay for a ride on a Lime electric scooter in downtown Minneapolis.

Jack Rodgers

Dayshawn Brown uses his phone to pay for a ride on a Lime electric scooter in downtown Minneapolis.

J.D. Duggan

Dockless electric scooters descended on the Twin Cities nearly two months ago, and now the University of Minnesota is looking to work with the companies that operate them. 

Bird scooters came to Minneapolis on July 10, the same day the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee planned to draft ordinances for motorized scooters, with Lime scooters coming to the area shortly after. The University sent draft agreements to both companies last week, laying out how the school envisions parking and operations of the scooters.

The scooters are “staged” at defined locations throughout the city after charging overnight. The University requested Bird and Lime not bring scooters to campus each morning, but welcomed riders.

“The University is a property owner here … [so] if somebody is going to do some activity on our property, we require an agreement from them,” said Steve Sanders, alternative transportation manager with Parking and Transportation Services. “We asked the scooter companies, please don’t set any out in the morning on University property until we have an agreement.”

Sanders said the University has identified potential future areas on campus for staging scooters. 

Neither company entered Minneapolis with a permit to operate. But because an ordinance dictating the scooters was already underway, the City decided removing the scooters only to reintroduce them was too costly.  

Josh Johnson, on-street parking systems manager with the City, said agreements with the City allow the companies to operate 100 scooters each.

He said that aside from parking rules, the laws are similar to those of bicycles — with operation of the scooters limited to the bike lane rather than sidewalks. Birds and Limes move about 15 mph, which classifies them similarly to bikes in state statute.  

The City currently forwards any grievances to the companies, but Johnson said complaints have not been unmanageable and the positive feedback has generally outweighed the negative.

Ward 3 Council member Steve Fletcher said the scooters serve an important function for traversing the city and could reduce traffic congestion and parking issues.

“The only time we’ve gotten complaints is when people are riding too fast to be safe around pedestrians on the sidewalk,” Fletcher said.

The City and University hope the companies will be proactive in educating the public on safe usage and local laws regarding the scooters, and they’ve expressed excitement for the innovation and novelty of a new form of transportation.

Because the City initially limited the number of scooters, the reliability of finding one for commuting is slim. Fletcher hopes more scooters will be available in the spring if the initial trial is successful.

“I think that it’s good for us as a city to be expanding our vision for different ways to get around the city,” Fletcher said. “We really want, especially the area around the U, to feel like a place that you can live without a car and get where you need to go. So we really want to encourage people to embrace these [alternative] modes of transportation … so we can get some cars off the street.”