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  1. Opinion

Who's Tampa's e-scooter grinch? Maybe not the person you think

During Tampa's pilot program to see if this city is ready for e-scooters, citizens have lodged complaints like this double violation: 1. Not parked properly in a corral, and 2. on the Riverwalk, one of the pedestrian-busy areas on which e-scooters are not allowed. [CHRIS URSO  |   Times]
During Tampa's pilot program to see if this city is ready for e-scooters, citizens have lodged complaints like this double violation: 1. Not parked properly in a corral, and 2. on the Riverwalk, one of the pedestrian-busy areas on which e-scooters are not allowed. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Aug. 8, 2019

Since these uber-hip, rent-by-the-app electric scooters hit Tampa in late May, nearly 100 comments have come in to the city, not counting the earfuls received by city council members.

While some people already love them, many more complain of scooters speeding and menacing pedestrians, scooters ridden with impunity where they are expressly forbidden, scooters dumped and left cluttered on sidewalks instead of properly parked in corrals, scooters piloted by children and drunks and, on at least one occasion, a single scooter carrying a man, woman and baby. (Wouldn't have believed that had I not seen photographic evidence.)

"I hate the scooters," wrote one unhappy camper.

But no one, no one, has been as prolific as the observer whose scooter-related correspondence makes up a third of all the official feedback so far.

Who's Tampa's scooter grinch? Maybe not the kind of person you'd think.

Rob Iles doesn't seem the cranky, get-off-my-lawn type, more like the kind of downtown dweller a city wants. Ten years ago, Iles, managing director of a brand and communications research firm, and his partner purchased a five-story townhouse on Franklin Street. Iles enthused about life in the urban core in a newspaper story: proximity to work, things to do, diverse population, energy, vitality. (He also said in a five-level home, you make sure you have your keys, wallet and phone with you when you come downstairs.)

"I am decidedly not anti-scooter," Iles tells me. "I am decidedly pro-proper scooter deployment and operation. And right now that doesn't look like that's what's happening."

Though he's a bicycle guy, he has tried a scooter. He's also been hit by one while on his bike by a guy texting who looked up and said, "Oh, dude, my bad." He's seen a woman from a retirement building roll her wheelchair into the street while walking her dog to get around scooters blocking the sidewalk.

His correspondence with the city says "good morning" and "thanks!" He asks pointedly about rules and policy and what's being done to prevent bad scooter behavior. He says he's gotten some "circular finger pointing."

He's also sent in plenty of helpful charts about abandoned scooter sightings by date, time, location (once, up on a Crosstown expressway entrance ramp), vendor (there's four) and even whether the battery was dead or still functioning — intelligence collected by downtown residents. "We want downtown to be vibrant and interesting and fun," he says, but not at the cost of "littering the urban landscape."

The city says vendors are responsible for collecting abandoned scooters, though the city can impound them if there's a safety issue. Tampa Police are responsible for enforcement when scooters go rogue in restricted areas, though the city would understandably like to minimize the need for police getting involved.

When the year is up, Tampa decides whether to keep e-scooters and under what conditions. Would it surprise you to know Iles sounds like he wants that to happen?

"I think they're a decided asset to downtown, if they are deployed and picked up correctly," he says, sounding more pro-city than grinchly.

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