St. Petersburg is moving closer to embracing motorized scooters with a new ordinance on micromobility that the City Council appears poised to pass Thursday. After the messy roll-out of Tampa’s scooter program, there is reason to pay attention to and learn from those lessons. But the detailed restrictions and specific guidelines outlined in the ordinance offer hope that St. Peterburg’s scooter share system could kick off more smoothly and be more of an asset than an irritant.
Scooter riders ought to honor this mantra: “If used correctly, trouble will not ensue.” Across the country, scooters have caused public complaints and even deaths. But St. Peterburg’s strict proposed regulations provide a chance to reduce complaints and improve safety. Users will have to be 16 years old to use a scooter and can travel up to a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour. Scooters will not be allowed on public sidewalks or walkways. They will only be used in bike lanes, or on streets with a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or less, which covers most downtown streets. Certain areas of St. Petersburg will be off limits for scooters, like waterfront area from Demen’s Landing to Coffee Pot Park and the Pinellas Trail west of 34th Street.
Motorized scooters have the potential to be a safe, viable form of public transportation. St. Petersburg City Council members have often referenced the “first mile, last mile” phenomenon of transit, when someone may return home using public transportation to a stop that is too far from their house to travel on foot. The city plans to install about one scooter station per block in the most dense areas of the city and every one-eighth of a mile in less populated pockets. That strategy should allow for convenient scooter access for much of the city’s residents. Still, it’s important to note that St. Petersburg has already introduced a bike share program to modest success. There are an average of 150 rides a day on roughly 300 bikes docked around the city.
City officials have already encountered differing opinions on the controversial transportation tools. One debate centered on how late to keep scooters running. Those at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg noted that students liked to use them late at night, while downtown leaders asked for earlier end times. The city has settled on 10 p.m. as a stop time for scooters, which is not in the ordinance but will be a contractual requirement with scooter vendors. That choice will likely prove safer for city residents.
Although initial indications are positive, questions still remain about St. Pete’s scooter share roll-out. The city has yet to begin their bidding process for scooter vendors and their timeline is undefined. Scooters may be in the city early next year, but a previous city presentation said the city hoped to have had an ordinance approved and a bid process out by now. The City Council should move forward Thursday with this ordinance and be prepared to make adjustments as St. Petersburg adjusts to scooters.
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