Ready for e-scooters, St. Petersburg? Tampa's got some wisdom for you

As St. Petersburg readies for electric scooters on its streets, Sue Carlton says there's already something to be learned from Tampa's stint with scooters.
Published July 13

Nearly two months into a pilot program that has electric scooters zipping around downtown Tampa and surrounding environs, here's a scene:

It's the morning of the Fourth of July, the city already bustling, and Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan is due at a TV interview at a nearby park. But he nixes his patrol car and instead hops on a curbside scooter. The chief rolls up to Fox 13 reporter Charley Belcher, giving a jaunty ding-ding of the scooter's bell.

"I'm a big fan," says the police chief of the new e-scooters.

From across the bay, St. Petersburg is watching. Recently it became legal statewide to ride e-scooters on streets and in bike lanes, so St. Pete could have them rolling in the fall. Local tradition dictates our two cities must be contrary: Scooters may additionally be ridden on sidewalks in Tampa, while in St. Pete, with its busy outdoor cafes and foot traffic, sidewalks will not be an option.

St. Petersburg hopes to have scooters in the fall, city says

We tried to cross downtown Tampa via scooter. Here’s how it went.

Is an electric scooter the same as a bike? Florida law says yes, trail users say no

Mayors of both towns have ridden e-scooters in other cities and pronounced them, I'm paraphrasing here, fun.

So get ready, St. Pete, it's a ride. Some things Tampa's learning:

It takes a minute to find your balance, literally and otherwise. In my first foray, I wobbled embarrassingly before I got up to speed, which for me was nowhere near the 15 mph scooters can do.

More important is balancing a new way of getting around with our existing cars, bikes, walkers, runners, leashed dogs and baby strollers, particularly in a place already dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. Chief Dugan points out every mode of transportation has its risks and calls it a learning curve to understanding safe scooter practices.

"It's just new," he says.

Inconsiderate riders leave scooters lying around instead of properly parked in designated areas, like oblivious teenagers shedding their sneakers at the front door for you to trip over. This has been a problem in other towns: scooters dumped in piles, left blocking sidewalks and building entrances, a frustration that does not garner a whole lot of scooter love.

St. Pete is thinking ahead. Mayor Rick Kriseman mentioned techniques out there like disincentives for riders who don't leave them in specific drop-off corrals, like a slower or more expensive ride the next time.

It's not just for fun. And not just for hipsters. At first it seemed only the cool kids, millennials and college students, were zipping around. But tourists and day-trippers clearly love them. And the other day, I saw two downtown professionals zipping around a curve toward lunch at Armature Works, ties flying over their shoulders. "I've seen women in heels," reports Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.

Steve Griggs, CEO of the Tampa Bay Lightning, recently showed up for a meeting with the mayor. His ride: a scooter.

They make sense. It's too hot to walk. There's nowhere to park. And sometimes it's not far enough to drive.

St. Pete already gets this. "It’s an alternative to getting in a car. It often can be used as a first-mile last-mile solution," Kriseman says. "It's another alternative for us as we work at trying to reduce our carbon footprint."

But people will not always ride smart. Inevitably, you will find Florida Man, and also Florida Woman and Florida Child, on scooters.

Early on Mayor Castor saw a series of kids zoom by, one so small he had to reach up for the handlebars. (You're supposed to be at least 16 and have a license or permit.) There have been sightings of what Castor dryly calls "ridesharing," as in two to a scooter. Not your best idea.

And some sobering reality: Last month a 33-year-old man on a scooter was critically injured and later died after witnesses say he rode into the path of semi-trailer truck near Ybor City. The truck driver was not charged.

In conclusion, but for the potential injury, and the city clutter, so far so good. "Follow the rules and I think everybody can have fun with it," Dugan says.

Advice from one city to another? "Take a deep breath," Castor says, "and the kinks will work themselves out."

Contact Sue Carlton at scarlton@tampabay.com.

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