Downtown Minneapolis resident Nathan Rasmussen likes riding scooters because it’s faster than walking.

“We went to EaTo downtown, and we’re heading home right now,” Rasmussen said as he scootered with his partner, Sofia, in the bike lane on Third Avenue South on Monday evening. “They're fast. They make a 15-minute walk turn into three minutes, and it costs, like, $3 per ride.”

But once they hit Fifth Street, they move onto the sidewalk. “Some people don’t drive safe. We try to ride on the street, but most of the time we're riding on the sidewalk,” Rasmussen said.

Earlier on Monday evening, across the street from EaTo, about 20 people attended a community meeting on electric scooters hosted by Councilmember Michael Rainville at The Depot hotel. Some attendees expressed anger at scooter users who ride on sidewalks, as well as users who improperly parking scooters, leaving them as potential tripping hazards. And though the City plans to build out a network of bikeways to reduce the amount of people riding on the sidewalk, that's not enough for some people at the meeting, who want scooters banned all together or irresponsible riders more harshly punished.

People in Minneapolis took close to 600,000 scooter rides in 2023. That's an average of 2,648 trips per day and a total of over 1.3 million miles. But ridership is down from 2019., when an average of 9,100 trips were taken per day during a week in September.

One attendee of Rainville’s meeting wondered if the prevalence of scooters is associated with any crime trends. “We've not firmly evaluated it, and we don't know of any anecdotal stories,” Minneapolis traffic engineer Allan Klugman said after the meeting.

The City received over 100 complaints about improperly parked electric bicycles and scooters in 2023. That’s down from over 2,800 complaints about scooters alone in 2021. The City was unable to differentiate between improperly-parked bikes and scooters in the 2023 complaints at press time.

Diana Biebighauser speaks during a community meeting on electric scooters on Monday evening. Photo by H. Jiahong Pan

Diana Biebighauser, a resident who spoke at the Rainville meeting, said she tripped over a parked scooter at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. She hit her chin on the sidewalk, resulting in a damaged tooth and lip. She was taken to the ER, where her teeth were wired shut. Though her ER visit was covered by her insurance, a visit to the dentist for dental work cost her $12,000. “I can't tell you how frightening it was for me to walk again, on the sidewalk,” said Biebighauser, who added that scooters should be banned.

Though Biebighauser did not seek legal recourse against the City or scooter company, at least one other person who’s tripped on a scooter in Minneapolis has. Disability activist Noah McCourt sued the City, as well as the companies behind Lime and now-defunct Bird, in federal court in 2019 after he tripped over a scooter at a light rail station. Court documents say the case was settled with the City in June 2020, and the claims against both Bird and Lime were dismissed. 

To address parking issues, Minneapolis became one of the few cities to require scooters to be locked to a stationary object, and mandated companies provide cable locks for their vehicles. “We're actually really unique, very few cities have a lock-to requirement,” said Dillon Fried, the City’s mobility and curbside manager.

The City also fines companies when their electric scooters or bikes break City law. Last year, the City fined companies $35,000. This year, the City is fining companies $40 for every scooter that’s improperly parked and encouraging them to pass the fines onto the user. Fried says the City can’t require companies pass the fine onto the user because they want to be respectful of the private data between the user and the companies. 

Both Lime and Veo try to ensure scooters are properly parked by requiring users to photograph where they left the scooter after dismounting. “If a rider’s last end of ride photo doesn’t show correct parking, the rider will receive a message with details explaining why they parked incorrectly,” said Veo spokesperson Paige Miller, who added that those who park improperly will receive warnings and fines of up to $10. Veo also suspends users from the platform after their fourth violation until they take and pass a parking quiz. “After receiving an initial warning, most of our riders correct their behavior,” Miller said. 

The City is looking into other options to reduce the amount of scooters parked on the sidewalk, according to Fried. “We're exploring things that some other cities do to incentivize preferred parking locations, including potentially on street parking, rather than on sidewalk … we really want to make it easy for the users to be compliant,” he said.

Map of restricted scooter zones in downtown Minneapolis by H. Jiahong Pan

Meanwhile, though the City received few complaints about rider behavior over the past three years, attendees nonetheless complained about scooter riders during the Monday meeting.

A resident of the North Loop’s Bookman Lofts who did not identify himself recounted being passed by scooter users “going full speed” while on the sidewalk. “I'm not exaggerating when I say inches, because I can literally feel the scooter was passing,” he said. 

Though both Lime and Veo scooters tell users to stay off of the sidewalk, Veo thinks a larger issue may be at play. A nationwide survey conducted by Veo found 68% of users who ride on the sidewalk do so because they don’t feel safe riding on the street. A survey conducted by the City made similar findings. “We directly ask them, ‘Do you ride on sidewalks?’ If they say ‘yes,’ we asked them why. The number one response (as to) why? They're scared to ride on the street,” says Fried.

Downtown’s protected bikeway network will be expanded in the coming years. The City plans to modify the bikeway on 9th and 10th Streets over the next three years, and Hennepin County plans to modify the bikeway on Portland and Park Avenues this summer as part of a repaving and travel lane reduction project.

In the meantime, the City provides a file that contains a computer-generated geographic boundary to companies to tell scooters where to slow down or stop working entirely. One location the file includes is the Stone Arch Bridge, where scooters that enter the boundary operate at no more than 10 miles per hour. 

The City, however, can’t use the same process to prevent sidewalk riding. Because the geographic boundary relies on satellites for location accuracy much like our smartphones, the speed restriction boundary intended for the sidewalk could make its way onto the actual street. “If a vehicle is restricted to go seven miles per hour rather than 15, when they're mixing with traffic, it can create a dangerous situation,” Fried said.  

Attendees also suggested the scooters should stop operating earlier in the evening. The City currently prevents scooter rentals between midnight and 3 a.m. because of “bad behavior” associated with the scooters. But the City is reconsidering that restriction so service industry workers can get home after buses stop running.