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Scooters have come to St. Pete. So why does it feel different than Tampa? | Editorial
You might have new noticed a new way to get around on St. Petersburg’s street.s
 
Brian Stephens, 45, on left, and his wife Susan Stephens, 45, from Beaufort, South Carolina, work to get the app up and running as the prepare to rent scooters from in front of the Museum of Fine Arts on Beach Drive NE on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020 in downtown St. Petersburg.
Brian Stephens, 45, on left, and his wife Susan Stephens, 45, from Beaufort, South Carolina, work to get the app up and running as the prepare to rent scooters from in front of the Museum of Fine Arts on Beach Drive NE on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020 in downtown St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Nov. 23, 2020

If you’ve left your house in the past few weeks, you might have noticed a new way to get around on St. Petersburg’s streets: Scooters have finally arrived. While other cities have struggled with scooter programs, St. Petersburg’s initial rollout has gone fairly well. And the local initiative includes one much-needed upgrade: Scooters must be parked in corrals, rather than left on the ground or wherever the passenger decides to discard them. That policy might be a key to the program’s long-term success.

The city debuted its 18-month pilot program at the beginning of November with 450 scooters operated by two different companies, Razor and Veo. The scooters cost a dollar to unlock and then charge the customer by the minute — $.37 for Razor scooters, which have seats, and $.33 for Veo, which are traditional standing scooters. That works out to $21 to $23 an hour, though most riders use them for much shorter trips.

St. Petersburg is late to the scooter trend, but that might end up being a blessing. Cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles have struggled with right-of-way policies and scooters discarded on sidewalks and in public areas. St. Pete appears to have learned from those examples and instituted stricter policies. First, scooters have to be returned to a corral or the rider will continue to be charged, meaning they will rack up a bill for not properly returning a scooter. Second, scooters cannot be used on city sidewalks, but only on trails, roads with bike lanes or roads where the speed limit is 30 mph or less, which includes much of downtown St. Petersburg.

The city saw more than 1,200 total rides on the first weekend. And they are a money-making venture for the city, which gets a dollar a day for each scooter the companies operate. In the future, the city could add as many as 1,500 scooters to its program.

The hope for St. Petersburg is that the scooters could become a viable alternative to cars for short-distance travel. That could mean scooting from a restaurant in the Grand Central District to a Beach Drive museum. It will certainly expand the radius in the city that can be easily traversed without a car.

Scooters won’t be a magic bullet that solves the city’s transportation challenges. Most residents will never ride one, and there’s bound to be some early resistance. Some challenges remain — there are already questions about the hierarchy between drivers, bicyclists and scooters. And there’s no guarantee that every scooter rider will adhere to the city’s extensive rules. But it’s important to give this program a chance.

It’s early days, but we remain cautiously optimistic that scooters can become a valuable — and fun — part the city’s transportation milieu.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.