ST. PETERSBURG — Scooters are coming to the Sunshine City in 2020, but not without a detailed set of rules and restrictions.
The City Council approved an ordinance Thursday that would allow scooter share companies like Bird and Lime to participate in a one-year pilot program that could start around March.
But after months of studying similar programs in Tampa, Atlanta and other cities nationwide, city staff has come up with a list of restrictions that they hope will set St. Petersburg’s scooter program apart from the others:
- Scooters will not be allowed on sidewalks. They can be ridden in the street if the speed limit is 30 mph or less or in bike lanes on higher speed streets.
- People will be prohibited from riding scooters on the city’s waterfront trail, which staff said is already overcrowded.
- Riders will be required to park scooters in designated corrals, instead of haphazardly leaving them at their destination.
- Scooters will have a 10 p.m. curfew.
City staff and council members hope these regulations will help St. Petersburg launch one of the nation’s most successful programs ― and avoid some of the safety and clutter issues that have plagued scooters in other cities. But much of the success that scooters have seen in other regions is predicated on the ability for people to jump on and off of them wherever they are ― instead of worrying about finding a designated parking location or limiting the areas where they can be used.
Council member Ed Montanari said he was all for bringing scooters to St. Petersburg, but wanted to make sure there was the right balance between regulation and ease of use.
“I don’t want the Wild Wild West, and I don’t want to limit scooters to the degree where it just doesn’t make sense to use them,” Montanari said. “How do we find that balance?”
The city’s transportation director, Evan Mory, told the council the proposed program won’t be perfect when it launches and will have growing pains. But he said staff is prepared to analyze data and tweak the program as it moves along.
St. Petersburg hopes to do better than “cities that have woken up to find 1,000 scooters deployed without their knowledge overnight,” Mory said. "We’re setting it up for success, and we have to be honest with ourselves that there will still be some challenges.”
Council members questioned how the restrictions would work and whether it would involve fines. Mory said details on those specifics would have to wait until city staff returns to council with agreements from each of the participating companies that the members would then approve.
However, he did share some idea of how scooter parking and curfew enforcement could work.
City officials would likely set up one parking corral for every block downtown, Mory said, with as many as 180 such areas being set up across the city. The corrals would be marked by a white line painted on the ground and would help address concerns other cities have shared about scooters that block sidewalks, businesses and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps.
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Mory said scooter companies can require riders to take pictures of their parked scooter before ending a ride. If the scooter is not left inside a designated corral, those riders could be fined.
Though a fine table hasn’t been set yet, Mory suggested a first offense could result in a warning, a second could cost the rider $3 to $5 and repeat offenders could see even higher fines or be blocked from using the app entirely. He’s hoping that part of regulation will be handled by the companies.
“For the most part, improper parking should be something the city does not have to participate in,” Mory said.
Megan Werner, owner of Brutique at 648 Central Ave., said she’s hopeful that scooters could help people explore different parts of downtown without worrying about parking.
“There are so many different neighborhoods and pockets in St. Pete,” Werner said. “People don’t want to leave their comfort zones and have to stress about finding parking.
“I think scooters will promote people to move from area to area so people aren’t staying only on Beach Drive or the Edge District, but feel more free to move around.”
She was reassured to hear about the city’s plans to keep scooters off sidewalks — she often places tables, signs and mannequins on the sidewalk outside her store — and to implement a corral parking system.
“Atlanta was the first place I had seen it completely trashed,” Werner said. “There was no rhyme or reason for where the scooters are. It takes away from the beauty of the city. I don’t want to see that happen here.”
Mory said about 50 percent of cities that have scooter-sharing systems use the corrals and others, like Atlanta, have curfews in place.
As for the 10 p.m. curfew, scooter companies would be able to lock the scooters at a set time, prohibiting people from starting rides late at night. Because the curfew time isn’t explicitly stated in the ordinance, Mory said that could be adjusted throughout the pilot program as problems arise.
“Say at the end of the pilot, we have 10 crashes and eight of them happen between 9 and 10 p.m.," Mory said. "That’s kind of a no-brainer. We’d move it back to 9 o’clock for safety reasons.”
Council members Charles Gerdes and Steve Kornell voted against the ordinance. Gerdes cited safety as his main concern.
“I’m going to be the 63-year-old, no-fun fuddy dud on this one,” Gerdes said, before explaining that two of his family members have crashed scooters in other cities.
Similar to Tampa, Mory said he hopes the city can partner with the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida to collect and analyze data during the program, including information on crashes and injuries.
Now that council has approved the ordinance, staff will issue a request for proposals and will bring those proposals back to the members next year, along with suggested companies the city could partner with. Mory said he expects the first scooter to hit the streets in late winter or early spring.
“I frankly would’ve liked to see them on the street yesterday,” council member Brandi Gabbard said. “I’m glad they’re finally here.”