Bikes vs. Scooters: Does Tampa Bay have room for both?

Tampa has seen a dip in monthly bike rentals since scooters came to town, but experts say the two options complement each other rather than compete.
Siyed Hashimi, 27, of San Francisco, rides a scooter on Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa on Friday. "Nobody wants to work riding a bicycle," he said.
Siyed Hashimi, 27, of San Francisco, rides a scooter on Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa on Friday. "Nobody wants to work riding a bicycle," he said. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published March 2, 2020

Brace yourself, Tampa Bay: Scooter share is here and growing. But what that means for the area’s existing bike shares remains uncertain.

Local cities welcomed bike shares with open arms over the last few years, while leaders were more hesitant with the electric scooter craze. Now both are in the market, and transportation officials are waiting to see how the relationship between the two “micromobility” options will shake out.

Bike shares came to Tampa in 2014 via the blue Coast Bike rentals. Six years later, the program averages about 4,000 rentals per month, according to transportation director Jean Duncan.

Neighboring St. Petersburg adopted its program in 2016 and just renewed the contract earlier this year. Coast Bike riders have taken nearly 116,000 trips since February 2017 and traveled more than 241,000 miles on the rental bikes, city data shows.

Related: New fleet of downtown St. Pete rental bikes includes 50 with motors

But those numbers are poised to change now that electric, dockless scooters are entering the mix.

The impact of scooters on bike shares looks different in each market. In Denver, the explosion of e-scooter use preceded the city’s bike share nonprofit shutting its doors for good last month as the city recrafts its vision for bike and scooter shares. In Portland, the two have co-existed a little more peacefully, with early numbers even showing that bike share numbers continued to grow.

Now that Tampa Bay is finally jumping into the scooter game, a little belatedly compared to other cities, local transportation directors are eager to see how their numbers pan out.

“I think on people’s minds is whether we even need bike share anymore because we’re going to become a scooter city,” St. Petersburg transportation director Evan Mory said. “There’s room for both. We want people to still have an active transportation option.”

Scooters invaded dozens of cities in 2018 — sometimes overnight and with little to no warning.

While those regions spent much of the year determining if and how to allow scooters into their downtowns, Florida has stayed out of the mix. That’s because many local governments interpreted current Florida law as prohibiting scooter companies like Lime and Bird from entering their markets unless an ordinance exists.

Related: Will scooters help or hurt the way we get around Tampa Bay? We're about to find out.

But transportation departments slowly got on board, taking care to learn from successes and failures elsewhere.

Tampa launched its pilot project in May, and has seen more than 900,000 scooter rentals in the first eight months. St. Petersburg is in the final stages of finalizing its pilot. If City Council members approve the measure, people can expect to see scooters on the streets in April or May.

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Tampa’s annual numbers for bike share continue to rise. In 2015, the first full year of bike share, the city logged close to 48,000 trips. That number grew to about 58,000 in 2018 and peaked at 62,500 in 2019.

Related: Rules of the sidewalk: Tampa grapples with the rented scooter crazed

But looking more closely at that data, there’s a clear distinction between the pre- and post-scooter periods of 2019. In the first five months of the year, bike share was averaging about 6,700 trips per month. Once scooters were introduced, that monthly average dropped to 3,600.

“It looks like since the scooter program began, bike share numbers have tapered off,” said Vik Bhide with the city’s transportation department. But he added: “We will always have both a bike share and a scooter share program. There’s no doubt about that.”

While some fear the possible competition, transportation experts are quick to explain the different purposes the two modes serve.

Early data across multiple cities show that bikes tend to be used more for longer commuting trips and by those seeking a more active transportation mode. Scooters fill the niche for shorter, entertainment-based trips.

Those initial findings are shifting, though, as scooters become more commonplace and the novelty wears off, said Nick Williams, who oversees bike and scooter shares in Denver’s department of transportation.

Early numbers show that average scooter trips started out under a mile per trip and then slowly crept up to 1.1 or 1.2 miles per trip. Bike shares averaged between 1.7 and 2.1 miles per trip, Williams said.

“Scooters, especially in the beginning, are used for more recreational trips than pure commuting,” Williams said. “I think that is shifting, and I think that’s partly why you’re seeing the mileage move up.”

Dylan Rivera, spokesman for Portland’s bureau of transportation, said the city is less concerned with which mode riders chose than the overall goal of reducing one-person car trips.

“We think, in general, there’s a lot of potential overlap for those two options to work well together to overall increase active transportation in the city,” Rivera said.

“We’re trying to decrease drive-alone trips," he said. "If we can do that with biking, if we can do that with e-scooters, if we can do that with public transit, if we can do that with carpooling, we think that’s great.”