Bloomington concedes: Simple tickets can’t be given to scooter companies for bad parking by their users

In late 2021, The B Square reported that no citations had been issued to scooter companies for violating the parking regulations laid out in a local ordinance, which was approved by the city council in July 2019.

When no ordinary parking tickets were issued to scooter companies, that came as a surprise to some residents—given the number of scooters they routinely encountered blocking ADA ramps and sidewalks in the downtown area, or in their residential neighborhoods.

The lack of any citations was especially unexpected, in light of the assurance given by city attorney Mike Rouker on July 31, 2019— the night the city council enacted the scooter ordinance. Rouker said that if scooter parking became a problem, parking fines would be imposed on scooter companies whenever the city saw a parking problem.

In August 2022, The B Square raised a question to Bloomington’s corporation counsel, Beth Cate, about the enforceability of the city’s ordinance that regulates shared electric scooter parking. That email went unanswered.

But last week, six months later, Bloomington’s director of economic and sustainable development, Alex Crowley, wrote in response to an emailed question from The B Square: “[T]he language in the ordinance needs to be tightened up, to give us the flexibility to impose fines on [scooter company] without having to impound.”

Crowley clarified in a followup email his understanding that imposing a fine on a company, without impounding a scooter, was not a possibility under the wording of the current ordinance.

Impounding a scooter was something that in July 2019 Rouker had portrayed to the city council as coming later, during a phase of enforcement that came only after fines on the companies had not been effective at achieving compliance .

Here’s how Rouker laid it out to the council in July 2019: “If the scooter company wants to pass those fines on to the user, who they can identify, and we cannot—because we do not want that personally identifiable information—they are welcome to try to pass those fines on to their user, the user who parked their scooter illegally.”

Rouker added: “If it gets severe enough, of course, then impoundment is the next step. And impoundment entails a storage fee and impoundment fee.”

In his emailed answer to The B Square, Crowley described impoundment as requiring a “significant operational effort.”

In July 2019, Rouker gave the council an assurance that the city was committed to issuing simple fines of scooter companies as a strategy for ensuring compliance:

Rouker told the council:

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. So there will be a municipal violation for that illegal parking, which this ordinance permits. And we’ve talked about at length, what those parking, those non-moving violations look like. So there would be parking tickets associated with that. So 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 geofence an area, that’s a business decision, but I don’t know if it’s a sound business decision.

In fall 2022, starting in the first part of October, the city of Bloomington’s public works department hired some part-time temporary workers to monitor scooter parking infractions. They were not tasked with writing tickets—their job was to document the violations and to move the scooters.

At the Dec. 19, 2022 work session held by the board of public works, public works director Adam Wason reported out for the period when the part-time temps were monitoring scooters. Wason said there were 186 violations by Bird and 232 from VeoRide. He did not report any violations for Lime. Those infractions were handled by moving the scooter to a legal location and documenting the infraction, Wason told the board.

To pay for the part-time temps, the city used proceeds from the fees that are paid by scooter companies for a license to operate their business in Bloomington’s right-of-way—$10,000 per year, plus 15 cents for each ride taken on the company’s scooters.

At the Dec. 19 work session, Wason called hiring the temp workers to document infractions “a good use of those funds.”

The license renewals for the three scooter companies operating in Bloomington, which were supposed to be considered by the board of public works in December, were delayed. At the Dec. 19 work session, Wason said the license renewals would be put in front of the board of public works “in the spring time frame.”

For now, the scooter companies are operating under expired agreements.


5 thoughts on “Bloomington concedes: Simple tickets can’t be given to scooter companies for bad parking by their users

  1. I was just in San Diego where scooters are parked in specific parking areas on the street. Perhaps it’s geo fencing because scooters weren’t parked anywhere else.

    Can Bloomington use geo fencing like IU does?

    1. i think the answer is yes, after a fashion. there would be a lot of labor to make (and maintain) the map and then a little process to get the scooter companies to adopt it. it would take time but i think it’s possible, especially because like you say other entities (including IU) have done it already so there must be a process the scooter companies already accept

  2. Maybe when someone dies as a result of a illegally parked scooter the Hamilton administration will get around to geo-fencing, a possibility that has been raised repeatedly in constituent meetings over the years. It took two scooter deaths to bring about the only substantive change in policy that has occurred since inception. Why has Hamilton been so adamant in his laissez-faire attitude toward scooters? I don’t know, but thankfully we have less than a year to go before his final term ends.

    1. i think it’s a combination of three factors. first, simple inertia…it is hard to implement a new program or to regulate a new phenomenon!

      second, he clearly negotiated backroom deals with the scooter companies. i think he thought they were good deals for the city, and there was perhaps nothing improper about it…but he has a reflexive habit of pushing away other power centers (such as city council) once he has made his own deal. the fact that he negotiated in private directly leads him to being antagonistic towards citizens or other electeds, citizens and other electeds, regardless of the merits of either position. the council has been adamant about scooters parked on sidewalks, at least performatively in their speech.

      and the third thing is just, i don’t think even mayor Hamilton could have predicted how eager Mike Rouker is to forgo the most basic standards of his profession. Attorney Rouker consistently acts as if it is his job to represent the interests of the mayor’s office *against* the rest of the city. ethically, he was bound to treat the council as if they were his clients, or he was bound to disclose the true identity of his client. i doubt Hamilton intended for Rouker to lie to the council but that’s exactly what happened. i have witnessed repeated instances where Rouker is clearly working against the parties he is advising. it’s a stunning breach and in this case it directly destroyed the ability for the council to represent the critical concerns from citizens. the misconduct is substantial and consequential.

      i will mention as an aside that Hamilton’s unwillingness to rock the boat is far more destructive when it comes to encouraging cars. even considering how prolific and obnoxious scooters are, cars are still the much more destructive force, even if we limit our analysis to just “things that block sidewalks when they’re parked improperly.” not to mention all the other antisocial things drivers do (such as killing one of those scooter riders, who was doing everything right). and Hamilton has advocated strenuously to spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars encouraging *more* car traffic, and has asked city staff to lie to the council to make that happen as well.

  3. Wouldn’t a quarterly bill to the companies for the fully loaded cost to the city of moving the scooters plus fines just be internalized as a cost of doing business by the companies, and get the scooters out of the footpaths? Shame that the city has to do it, though.

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