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Electric scooters hit the streets in St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is the latest city to get electric scooters. But unlike in other cities, the scooters can’t be left strewn across the sidewalk.

ST. PETERSBURG — Beach Drive to Grand Central District was too far to walk. And yet, not quite far enough to drive.

So Brian Stephens and his wife, Susan, who were visiting St. Petersburg from Beaufort, S.C. on Monday, approached a corral near the Museum of Fine Arts and rented scooters.

"We didn’t want to go through the hassle of getting the car out of valet and parking,” said Brian Stephens, 45, who was staying at the Birchwood.

That’s exactly the kind of trip city officials hoped people would make on the new electric devices, said Evan Mory, St. Petersburg’s transportation and parking director. The scooters, 450 of them, debuted over the weekend as part of an 18-month pilot.

Related: St. Petersburg is getting scooters. But there will be rules.

Mory said the goal is to entice people to park in downtown or along Central Avenue once and leave their vehicle there. They can then scooter around until they return to their cars and leave.

“Hopefully it reduces automobile traffic,” he said.

St. Petersburg is the latest city to get electric scooters after they became a craze a few years ago, with masses of them popping up in urban areas all over the country — including in Tampa, which began its scooter program in 2019.

Scooters parked in a corral across the street Coast Bike Shares on Central Avenue and Seventh Street in downtown St. Petersburg on Monday.
Scooters parked in a corral across the street Coast Bike Shares on Central Avenue and Seventh Street in downtown St. Petersburg on Monday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

They quickly became known as a quick, convenient and affordable method to zip around. But they also brought controversy. In many cities, the scooters can be parked practically anywhere, leaving the devices strewn on sidewalks and often in the way.

Not so in St. Petersburg, where the scooters live in corrals. Similar to the corrals that house bike shares, the scooter corrals are on the sides of streets and on corners with scooters crammed inside. As of Friday, the city had built 35 corrals, mostly in the greater downtown area and west on Central Avenue, with more coming online.

Riders can rent scooters from two companies, using the companies’ respective phone apps: Razor, which offers scooters with a seat, and Veo, which offers standing models. Unlocking a scooter costs a dollar, and then charges accrue by the minute — Razor charges 37 cents per minute, while Veo charges 33.

The scooters can only be unlocked from the corrals. And riders must return the devices to the corrals in order to end a ride; otherwise, charges continue to accrue.

The orderly nature of the scooters is why the Stephenses decided to rent them. They previously lived in Charlotte, N.C., where the scooters clutter sidewalks. There, they never rode them.

“I think it’s managed a lot better here than it is in Charlotte," he said. "Here you can’t end your ride unless it’s parked in a designated space. In Charlotte you can end your ride and dump it anywhere.”

Related: Scooters are back on Tampa streets after coronavirus shelved them for seven weeks

The scooters will operate within the service area, which is between the 22nd avenues and east of 34th Street. Riders are also not allowed to ride on city sidewalks. They must stick to trails, roads with bike lanes and roads where the speed limit doesn’t exceed 30 miles per hour.

The exception is the waterfront trail, where the scooters will limit themselves to 3 miles per hour, so riders can navigate away. Scooters are also prohibited at the pier, where the devices will automatically turn off. While helmets aren’t required, Mory said they are highly encouraged.

Two companies, Veo and Razor, were chosen by city leaders to participate in St. Petersburg's 18-month scooter pilot program.
Two companies, Veo and Razor, were chosen by city leaders to participate in St. Petersburg's 18-month scooter pilot program. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

When riders open the Razor and Veo apps, they are greeted by a message reminding them of the city’s rules. Riding on sidewalks could result in citations, though Mory said the city is focusing on education and warnings early on.

There were more than 1,200 total rides during the scooter program’s first weekend, Mory said. Most everyone followed the rules, though he said he heard that there were a few instances of sidewalk riding. He said there were no serious incidents or accidents.

The scooters do generate revenue for the city, with Veo and Razor paying the city a dollar per day per scooter. Over time, the city plans to add more corrals within the service area and authorize more scooters — up to 1,500. So the program could yield hundreds of thousands per year.

After the 18-month pilot period, city leaders will assess the program and decide whether to extend it, tweak it, switch scooter vendors or end it altogether.

On Monday, after checking out the scene in Grand Central, where they hit some of the vintage and antique shops, the Stephenses rode back to Beach Drive.

Brian Stephens' assessment: “They are fun, I will say."

Times photographer Dirk Shadd contributed to this report.

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