TAMPA — With rising gas prices and families still recovering from the economic downturn, scooters are becoming an increasingly more popular mode of transportation. They're also becoming a prime target for theft, deputies said.
"These things are fairly reasonable to purchase and they don't have the insurance requirements that cars have," Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Lt. Rick Jahnke said Thursday at a news conference aimed at promoting awareness among scooter owners. "It's faster and (more fun) to steal a scooter than it is a bicycle, and virtually as easy at the moment."
The county has seen almost a double-digit decrease in crime the last several years, Cpl Doug White said. But motorcycle and scooter theft has risen 10 percent the first half of this year.
"These scooters are an economical way for families to get around," White said. "It absolutely makes sense for a single person, college students or even folks living in an apartment complex to use these as means of transportation."
They're cheaper and smaller. The tanks are less expensive to fill and the costs of insurance and registration don't even come close to that of a car. But they also give people a false sense of security, deputies said. Some scooter owners leave the keys in the ignition or keep their scooter stored in their garage -- with the door open. The combined temptation and convenience contributes to the spike in thefts.
"We believe it's largely teenagers and young adults looking for a quick means of transportation or a joy ride," Jahnke said. "We have not as of it yet seen any organized pattern of theft."
Most, if not all, of the thefts this year were preventable simply with a good lock, Jahnke said. The sheriff's department has arrested several juveniles and adults, some of whom were repeat offenders, he said. Deputies who see registered but unsecured scooters are contacting the owners and sharing tips on how they can best protect their rides.
Deputies suggest owners register scooters, invest in a lock, put an alarm sticker in a visible place and park by security cameras.
Mike Ferguson, 31, knows what it's like to wake up and discover his mode of transportation missing. He had just finished paying off his scooter when thieves stole it from his apartment complex. Instead of a 20-minute ride to work, he faced a one-hour bus trip. Tampa police found his scooter later that evening, but not before the thieves inflicted damage which will cost Ferguson about $800 to repair.
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813)225-3111.