When Bloomington’s city council enacted an ordinance regulating shared electric scooters, the local law came with a provision about sidewalk parking. Users could park their scooters on sidewalks, but with more than a dozen restrictions.
Among the restrictions are some obvious requirements—like the need to leave a clear straight path of some minimal width (at least four and a half feet), and a prohibition against blocking accessibility ramps.
At the July 31, 2019 city council meeting, when the scooter ordinance was enacted, city attorney Mike Rouker told the city council: “[The city of Bloomington] will be fining them every single time we see a parking issue.”
Apparent violations of the scooter parking ordinance are noticeable in many places around town where scooters are operated.
But the city of Bloomington has not made any citations or issued any fines related to improper scooter parking, after the ordinance became effective more than two years ago, on Sept. 1, 2019
Based on a records request made by The B Square under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act, the city has not issued any citations through Nov. 12 of this year.
As Bloomington resident Chuck Livingston points out, scooters blocking sidewalks aren’t a mere inconvenience. Livingston can photograph a batch of improperly parked scooters in under an hour on a walk around his neighborhood.
In an email to The B Square, Livingston wrote, “Since the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] was passed 31 years ago, progress in making our sidewalks accessible has been, at best, glacially slow. Whatever progress has been made has been reversed by the influx of electric scooters.”
Livingston continued, “The passive acceptance and inaction on this by the city administration and council is a revelation about their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and accessibility.”
Background on Bloomington’s scooter ordinance
Enacted on July 31, 2019, the final version of Bloomington’s ordinance, which allowed scooter sidewalk parking, required a change to the proposed legislation, which the council had already settled on three months earlier.
In an 8–0–1 vote on May 1, 2019, the council had approved an amendment banning the parking of scooters on sidewalks. (It was councilmember Jim Sims who abstained.)
On July 31, 2019, the council reversed itself, and passed an amendment allowing scooter parking on sidewalks, but with restrictions. The vote on allowing sidewalk scooter parking was 7–1. Dissenting was then-councilmember Alison Chopra. Dave Rollo was absent.
Factoring into the city council’s thinking was a state law passed during the 2019 legislative session that requires cities to give scooter users an alternative other than sidewalks, if the city chooses to ban scooter parking on sidewalks.
The statute reads in relevant part (emphasis added): “A local authority may prohibit the parking of an electric foot scooter on a sidewalk if the local authority provides an adequate alternative parking location in a public right-of-way that is proximate to the prohibited area.”
At its July 31, 2019 meeting, city attorney Mike Rouker told the city council that scooter companies would be fined if their users violated the parking restrictions.
Rouker put it this way: “So just to be clear, at the same time, that Bird or Lime or another scooter company may be taking those additional steps against their own users, the city, if this is an issue, will be fining them every single time we see a parking issue.”
Rouker continued, “I suppose if the company wants to move very slowly and pay lots and lots of fines to the city, until we’re fed up enough that we either revoke their license or geo-fence an area, that’s a business decision. But I don’t know if it’s a sound business decision.”
For an improperly parked scooter, the fine called for in the city’s ordinance runs $30. The fee connected to impoundment is $100, plus $10 per day storage, and another $150 for disposal.
As it turns out, the only payments the scooter companies have had to make to the city of Bloomington are the $10,000 annual licensing fees and the 15 cents a ride. The three companies now operating in Bloomington are Lime, Veo, and Bird.
Lime commands the greatest market share, with about half of all Bloomington rides taken on one of its scooters. About 34 percent of rides are taken on Veo scooters. Bird has 16 percent of the Bloomington scooter market.
Through early September the total amount paid by the three companies to Bloomington was $165,702.
In response to an emailed question from The B Square, about the lack of enforcement of the parking provisions in the scooter ordinance, city attorney Rouker wrote, “When the City is made aware of a misparked scooter, it works with the company that owns the scooter to have the parking issue addressed. This strategy has proved largely effective, and therefore there has been no need to resort to more punitive measures, such as fines or impoundment.”
In response to a records request from The B Square, for correspondence from city staff to scooter companies on parking compliance issues, the city of Bloomington produced four email messages.
One message, from Bloomington’s economic and sustainability director Alex Crowley to Veo, related to the way that the company’s employees stage the scooters. The scooters were taking up all the spaces at a bicycle rack near the Monroe County Public Library. A second one, from Crowley to Lime, involved a bicycle rack staging issue near the Graduate Hotel.
The third message was a thread involving the retrieval of a Lime scooter from the pond at Miller-Showers Park. And the fourth email message was from Crowley to Veo, with a complaint about the duration of a scooter parked on a sidewalk.
In response to The B Square’s records request, no correspondence was produced from the city of Bloomington to scooter companies on the topic of scooters parked in improper places by users.
A report from the parking commission?
Councilmember Matt Flaherty took office at the start of 2020. So he was not a part of the city council that enacted the scooter ordinance.
But Flaherty attended the October meeting of the Bloomington parking commission to talk to the group about scooter parking issues. A constituent had raised the issue with him.
Flaherty told parking commissioners he was looking for ways to work with the scooter companies to get better compliance, so that scooters are not blocking sidewalks.
At the parking commission’s meeting, Flaherty raised the possibility of imposing the fines called for in the ordinance as one way to get better compliance on scooter parking. Flaherty said, “I would think that some aggressive enforcement could do that—especially those impoundment fees with the daily escalation of storage costs.”
Flaherty added, “I would think that that would pay for staff time pretty quickly, and maybe really get the attention of [the scooter companies].”
Flaherty stated that he was not interested in pursuing a policy of banning scooters.
It was the parking commission that Flaherty addressed on the topic, because the scooter ordinance says that it’s one of two city commissions that is supposed to study the question of scooter parking and report back to the city council. The other group tasked by the local scooter law with studying and reporting to the council on scooter parking is the bicycle and pedestrian safety commission.
The ordinance says (emphasis added):
The commissions are directed to produce a report which documents their findings. Said report shall be forwarded to the common council no later than March 31, 2020 for review.
The common council shall take the report and its findings into consideration when deciding what additional parking restrictions may be appropriate for shared-use motorized scooters.
At their October meeting, Flaherty told parking commissioners he was not upset that they had not done the study and made the report as described in city code. Flaherty said, “[P]andemic and other things happening, these things happen, especially when we set these kind of lookback periods in code.”
From the time the ordinance was enacted at the end of July 2019, through the end of that year, the parking commission cancelled two of its scheduled five monthly meetings. The February 2020 meeting was also cancelled.
By the time of the scheduled March 2020 parking commission meeting, Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s first emergency health order had been issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scooter parking was not an agenda item for any of those post-ordinance, pre-pandemic parking commission meetings that were held.
Next Steps: uReports filed
The city of Bloomington maintains a system called uReport for residents to file reports about issues that need to be addressed.
Responding to an emailed question from The B Square, about Bloomington’s willingness to cite and fine a scooter company based on a uReport, city attorney Mike Rouker wrote, “We might, if less punitive measures prove ineffectual.”
On Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, The B Square did not go hunting for improperly parked scooters, but found two about which The B Square filed uReports.
The first improperly parked scooter was encountered on the way to Miller-Showers Park, where the unachieved goal was to get a photograph of the great blue heron that sometimes hangs out there, or else the muskrats that rarely show themselves.
The second badly parked scooter was encountered on the way to the Village Pub, which is less than a half-block journey from B Square headquarters on 6th Street.
The B Square will update this piece with any news that citations have been issued.
[Bloomington resident Chuck Livingston took the photos below on a 45-minute walk around his neighborhood.]
Photos from Elm Heights: Sept. 17, 2021 by Chuck Livingston