Electric scooters are now legal in Wisconsin, but don’t expect popular companies such as Bird or Lime to descend on Janesville anytime soon.
Per city ordinance, the scooters would be allowed on streets that have speed limits of 25 mph or less. But Janesville likely isn’t big enough and doesn’t have the right demographics to support a network of rental scooters, city officials said.
Rental scooters have popped up in cities across the country. Similar to a bike-sharing system, scooters can be rented through an app and used to transport riders from one place to another.
But unlike a bike share, scooter rental companies usually don’t have docks. That means people sometimes leave them anywhere, although the companies encourage users to leave them near a bike rack.
Scooters strewn across sidewalks have caused controversy in some cities. Last summer, Bird dropped off scooters in Milwaukee without telling city officials, prompting them to declare the scooters illegal.
Bird and Milwaukee recently settled a lawsuit over the dispute. Now, Bird and several other scooter companies are eyeing the city after Gov. Tony Evers signed a law this month allowing local governments to regulate electric scooters.
The Janesville market is much different.
Economic Development Director Gale Price said no scooter rental companies have approached him about coming to Janesville. He wasn’t surprised by that.
“We just don’t have the mass of people that would use the Lime or whatever the companies are. They really focus on bigger communities that have a younger population, college students, things like that,” Price said. “If they came here, it would be after everyone else.”
A bike-share company approached Janesville about three or four years ago. Bike shares typically require a community to offer public funding for the system, and Janesville determined it did not have the need or audience to justify the cost, Price said.
Janesville wasn’t trying to make money off the bike share. But city officials thought it would be difficult for the system to become self-sufficient, he said.
Bike-share systems are more established across the country, so if Janesville didn’t have the market to support one, it likely wouldn’t be a viable location for a scooter rental company.
But it’s possible for someone to buy a scooter and use it as another form of transportation on city streets.
Police Chief Dave Moore confirmed with Assistant City Attorney Tim Wellnitz that scooters are allowed under current city ordinance, as long as they remain on streets with a 25 mph speed limit or less. They are not allowed on sidewalks, in parks or on bike trails, Moore said.
When anything new comes to Janesville, the police department informs officers of any law changes and then monitors for possible violations. It’s an adjustment the department has to make, Moore said.
Price, who tried the scooters recently while in Los Angeles, said sometimes those adjustments are unexpected.
“It’s interesting how things evolve. I never would’ve imagined bike sharing and scooter rentals being anything significant 10 years ago, but here we are,” Price said. “The internet changes everything.”