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  1. Transportation

St. Petersburg wants scooters. But it doesn't want scooters' problems.

Tampa has a pilot program underway to test scooters. St. Petersburg should have a similar program running later this year. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
Tampa has a pilot program underway to test scooters. St. Petersburg should have a similar program running later this year. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Jul. 25, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The Sunshine City wants to avoid the problems that scooter rollouts have faced in other cities, such as scooters left lying on streets and minors illegally riding them.

The city's proposed plan to introduce scooters aims to reduce clutter and emphasize safety, said St. Petersburg transportation and parking management director Evan Mory.

In Tampa, for example, that city requires scooters to be parked in corrals, but residents have reported scooters being left parked haphazardly everywhere.

St. Petersburg's proposed one-year pilot program would put 750 to 1,500 scooters on the streets by late fall or early winter, the city said.

It will be a slow roll-out, the number of scooters changing depending on demand. Their top speed is about 15 mph.

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

The City Council's housing, land use and transportation committee voted Thursday to send the proposal to the full council. It would also ban scooters from sidewalks, require shared scooters to be parked in corrals and fine users and companies for not complying with rules.

The city would charge the scooter companies $1 per day for each scooter used. Up to three companies could sign a contract that would pay the city up to $273,000 a year if St. Petersburg uses 750 scooters and up to $547,000 if it goes up 1,500.

"We can take advantage of the best of what they have to offer but also make sure the more dangerous or cluttery aspects are minimized in a reasonable way so we're not taking all the fun out of it either," said council member Darden Rice.

The scooters would provide a "first-mile, last-mile" solution, Rice said. That would help people with trips too long for walking and too short to drive. A study cited by the city found that 70 percent of respondents view scooters positively. It surveyed 7,000 people in 10 major regions across the country.

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

Council member Amy Foster voiced concern that ordinances alone may not do enough to prevent the clutter and safety issues. She asked Mory how the city would implement the ordinances in a way that would address those issues. For example, tourists may not know where the corrals are and end up parking them illegally.

Scooter companies are now doing more to meet cities' needs, Mory said, so the city will pick vendors on that basis. The city will create scooter corrals that are obvious so riders can find them, he said. The city also proposed setting a maximum time of 30 minutes for companies to pick up "nuisance scooters" left on the streets.

The proposed regulations would require private scooters to be "upright and clear of sidewalks and pedestrian paths." Riders could also be fined for improperly parking scooters. That would also "catch people's attention," Mory said.

The city wants to look for companies who could offer tests on scooter regulations that potential riders would have to pass before they can use them, Mory said. But he did not know if any vendor can execute that kind of idea.

Unlike Tampa, the city would have "zero tolerance" for scooters on sidewalks, Mory said. It would enforce that via GPS "geo-fencing" that can detect where the scooter is being used.

It should be accurate enough to tell whether someone is riding on the sidewalk or on the street. Scooters are allowed on streets and bike lanes. But the devices should be able to turn them off if the scooters end up on sidewalks.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Electric scooters can now ride in Tampa streets and bike lanes

Mory has said scooters won't mix well with downtown sidewalks, which are flush with sidewalk cafes and pedestrians.

The scooters would also be banned on the waterfront trail. The "geo-fencing" system could also cut speeds down to 3 mph and cut off power completely when used on sidewalks.

But the city decided not to cut power completely because it wants waterfront riders to be able to get the scooters back to a corral.

"You can barely go at three — you're not really having a good time," he said.

Another potential issue Foster asked about was anyone 18 and under getting around the age requirement to use a scooter.

"In every city I've been in, I've seen little kids riding it," Foster said. "You have to scan a license, but somehow they must be getting around it."

The city will find ways to address kids and multiple riders before allowing scooters, Mory said.