1. Opinion

E-scooters: already in Tampa, coming to St. Pete. Are we ready for this?

Sure they’re fun, says Sue Carlton, but there’s been flagrant flaunting of scooter etiquette already.
A Bird electric scooter is seen along the Tampa Riverwalk. Riders are forbidden from riding along the path through downtown. [CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times]
A Bird electric scooter is seen along the Tampa Riverwalk. Riders are forbidden from riding along the path through downtown. [CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Oct. 27, 2019

This really happened.

I’m driving out of downtown Tampa at that time of day when work is done and people are walking dogs and strolling to dinner. Stopped at the light at Kennedy Boulevard, I see him: a young man riding one of those zippy electric scooters that Tampa is currently trying out, crossing the busy intersection in front of me.

Strapped across his chest as cars whiz past is a baby.

Wait, there’s more.

As I drive home marveling at the insanity I just witnessed, I pass Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, another popular e-scooter spot. There I see another guy rolling along on a scooter with — deja vu all over again — a toddler strapped to his torso.

Sure, because what could possibly go wrong?

Tampa is five months into a one-year pilot program allowing four companies to put scores of rent-by-the-app e-scooters on the streets of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

Super-hip St. Petersburg — which, truth be told, is usually quicker to score these kinds of cool points — has wisely waited and watched Tampa’s roll-out. St. Pete plans its own scooter debut with a one-year tryout starting next year.

Tampa has logged in close to half a million rides already so people clearly like them. I took a spin and no question they add a fun element to a bustling downtown. You see them carrying weekend fun-seekers, college kids, weekday business-lunchers and assorted office workers. They provide a way to go shorter distances without getting in a car and, worse, finding somewhere to park. Around here we need more transportation options, not fewer, and I sincerely hope Tampa finds a way to make e-scooters work long term.

But the trip so far has not been without bumps and bruises, literally and otherwise.

Most obvious is scooter clutter. Riders leave them parked across sidewalks, blocking doorways and strewn in the grass at parks. Scooters are regularly abandoned where they do not belong instead of properly parked in marked corrals. Besides being a safety hazard, it’s not really the look a city strives for.

In Tampa you see e-scooters ridden by children even though you’re required to be at least 16 with a license or learner’s permit. You see them occupied by two and even three people when the rules in the name of basic safety say one. (And don’t even get me started on babies.) Some riders take scooters with impunity on the streets where they are expressly banned — including Ybor City’s busy thoroughfare of Seventh Avenue and the winding waterside Bayshore Boulevard. Just this week, two scooters lapped me on the also-forbidden Riverwalk.

So after Tampa’s pilot program concludes next year, the city council should hold scooter companies who want to do business here accountable.

Already St. Pete has added some smart, tailor-made rules. Given downtown’s outdoor cafes and busy sidewalks, scooters will roll on streets or in bike lanes, not on sidewalks. They won’t be allowed on the city’s waterfront trail (see Tampa’s Riverwalk, above, on that one.) St. Pete plans a 10 p.m. scooter curfew, which might help curb the kind of complaints Tampa has gotten about riders who are clearly intoxicated.

Though I picture clocks striking 10 p.m. and everyone immediately abandoning their scooters where they stand, bringing us right back to the the scourge of scooter clutter.

Hey, when it comes to a city learning to use e-scooters, I’ve seen dumber.


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