Tampa jumps on the hot new craze: electric scooters

Scooters on the sidewalk in downtown San Francisco, Calif., April 14, 2018. The city of Tampa now wants to bring electric scooters to its downtown.  (Jason Henry/The New York Times)
Scooters on the sidewalk in downtown San Francisco, Calif., April 14, 2018. The city of Tampa now wants to bring electric scooters to its downtown. (Jason Henry/The New York Times)
Published October 24
Updated October 24

TAMPA — Electric scooter rentals are the latest fad for moving around downtowns, and they could be coming to town as soon as February.

The city has issued a request for applications for up to three electric scooter rental companies to bring that technology to Tampa, said city spokeswoman Ashley Bauman.

Patrons would only be able to ride the scooters on sidewalks and multi-use paths, not on streets or bike lanes.

Interested companies can apply to join the one-year pilot program through Nov. 9.

"We’re trying to get ahead of the regulation and be proactive," Bauman said. "We know they’re coming. They’ve dropped in every city."

TIMES ANALYSIS: Tampa Bay has one of the worst public transit systems in America. Here’s why.

Electric scooters have popped up in dozens of cities across the county, such as Cincinnati, Indianapolis, San Francisco and New York. They often cost as little as $1 to start riding and then 15 cents for each minute after. All users have to do is download an app, enter a credit card and scan a barcode to unlock the scooter.

People can pick up the scooters wherever they find them — sidewalks, parks, docking stations — and ride them as far as they want to go. The scooters can go as fast as 5 to 8 mph. (For comparison, segways top out around 12 mph.) When the ride is finished, the scooters can be left right there at the end of the trip. No docking or plug-in required — patrons just need to make sure they’re life in a public space that doesn’t block traffic.

Several companies are trying to seize on the excitement around the grab-and-go scooter program. Bird, Lime, Skip, Scoot and Spin all offer scooter rentals through an app on the user’s smartphone.

"We also want to get ahead of scooter companies just setting up shop and creating issues, as has occurred in other cities in the U.S.," Tampa Transportation Director Jean Duncan said.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was seen testing out a Lime scooter in front of City Hall earlier this month.

"Giving Lime Bike a whirl," the mayor tweeted on Oct. 11 with a picture of him grinning on a scooter. "We still have a way to go and some issue to work through in order to get these on our streets, but I remain committed to diversifying transit in the Burg."

The mayor is interested in bringing the scooters to downtown, but St. Petersburg isn’t as far along in the process as Tampa, said Kriseman’s spokesman Ben Kirby said.

Clearwater spokesman Rob Shaw said the city first needs to figure out a bike share program — Clearwater is hoping for a countywide approach — before tackling the latest transportation craze.

Tampa is prepared to bring on as many as 1800 scooters online for the pilot program. The rentals will be available south of E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, with Armenia Avenue acting as the western boundary and N 40th Street marking the eastern boundary.

No more than 300 scooters would be allowed in any of the four main areas: downtown, and then three zones west, east and north of downtown. An additional 600 would be spread between E Columbus Drive and MLK Boulevard.

The program will see about 180 parking corrals set up, each holding 10 scooters, spread through the service zones.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

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