The approval of contract renewal that would allow the Bird scooter company to continue to use the public right of way to do business in Bloomington was pulled from the Tuesday meeting agenda for the board of public works (BPW).
The item is also not expected to appear on the agenda for the very next BPW meeting. But it could appear on the board’s Nov. 22 agenda, possibly along with the contract renewals for the two other companies doing business in Bloomington—Lime and VeoRide.
Under the terms of the scooter contracts, companies pay the city $10,000 year for a license, and 15 cents for each ride their customers take.
The reason the contract was pulled off this week’s agenda was given at Tuesday’s meeting during the staff report from public works director Adam Wason. “After some communications from some city councilmembers and others yesterday about the renewals, city staff in coordination with the mayor’s office and legal decided that we were going to pull this from the agenda at this time while we do some further coordination with both the university and the city council,” Wason said.
Wason added, “Part of that is going to be some evaluation of some data and combined conversation with the university and their team that are working on scooter issues.”
The pushback from councilmembers stems from long-brewing frustration over blockage of ADA ramps and sidewalks by parked scooters, and the city’s apparent decision not to impose fines for the infractions.
That’s after the council was assured at a public meeting in July 2019 by the city attorney that fines would be imposed for any parking violation, if they approved the ordinance allowing scooter companies to operate in Bloomington.
Councilmember Dave Rollo wrote in response to a B Square question on Tuesday, “To date, the administration has not attempted any enforcement of scooter violations. The situation is so chronic, that I have been outspoken about an ordinance to ban them.”
Rollo added, “I am exasperated and find the assurances of resources dedicated to enforcement (during our budget hearings) to be inadequate.”
The new resources for enforcement include the hiring of two temporary part-time employees to document scooter parking violations and to move scooters off ADA ramps and out of the middle of sidewalks. They have been on the job almost three weeks.
An early morning death, in August, of an Indiana University student who was involved in what was apparently a single-person scooter crash has prompted concerns about scooter safety. That death led the the mayor’s office a bit less than two months later, on Oct. 10, to announce a kind of scooter ”curfew.”
The city’s announcement was worded like this: “[T]he City of Bloomington has directed all scooter companies operating in Bloomington to limit scooter operating hours to 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily beginning this Thursday at 11 p.m.”
But at the BPW Monday work session, when the board previewed Tuesday’s agenda items, city attorney Mike Rouker said the scooter companies had acted on their own.
Rouker stated, “And so just one more small clarification with regard to the current hours of deployment: That was a voluntary act. No additional requirement was imposed by any board or commission. The scooter companies decided to turn them off between 11 to 5 on their own volition.”
In addition to the August death of an IU student, the city’s Oct 10 announcement of a scooter curfew referred to “mounting late-night injuries related to scooter use.” In response to a records request by The B Square, the city of Bloomington has not yet produced any records documenting late-night injuries related to scooter use.
The Oct. 10 announcement by the city sowed confusion about which death had prompted the city to take action. The original post by the mayor’s office to Facebook did not mention any timeframe. Later, the posted was edited to include the phrase “in August,” in order to distinguish it from a September case when a drunk driver hit and killed a scooter rider.
For many who saw the announcement, the addition of the phrase “in August” was not enough to distinguish the two cases—given the more recent and more widely reported tragedy of the drunk driver who killed a scooter rider. The city’s scooter curfew was roundly denounced across the internet as victim blaming. For some, the city’s announced curfew, even as a response to the August death, was not appropriate.
A Tuesday approval of Bird’s contract appeared to have been taken for granted by the administration. Included in the original BPW meeting information packet for Tuesday was a letter from Bloomington’s director of economic and sustainable development Alex Crowley, to Bird that starts, “Congratulations on your successful renewal of the Shared-Use Motorized Scooter Operator License with the City of Bloomington.”
Crowley’s letter continues, “At its October 25, 2022 meeting, the Board of Public Works approved your application for the new contract term, effective October 17, 2022 through October 16, 2023.”
Another indication that the administration was looking for an easy approval was the spot on the BPW agenda that was originally given to Bird’s contract. The contract had originally been placed on the consent agenda. That’s a group of items that are viewed as uncontroversial enough that they do not need a separate consideration and a separate vote, and can be approved on a single motion.
But BPW member Elizabeth Karon stated at Monday’s work session she did not want the item to be a part of the consent agenda. Karon said, “I’m a little uncomfortable with this being on the consent agenda rather than a discussion item—because I think we need to acknowledge, especially with all the issues with scooters recently, safety, and otherwise, we need to acknowledge that we pass this or don’t.”
[Added at 7:57 a.m. on Oct. 26, 2022: It is not clear if Bloomington is included in Bird’s Oct. 18 announcement that it will “wind down operations in several dozen additional, primarily small to mid-sized cities across the U.S.”]