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St. Petersburg Accelerates Toward Allowing E-Scooters

St. Petersburg officials have approved a pilot program that will allow residents to rent e-scooters by 2020. Courtesy Portland Bureau of Transportation

St. Petersburg is one step closer to becoming the next Florida city to allow people to rent electric scooters. The City Council voted 6-1 Thursday in favor of a pilot program that will bring the small motorized rental vehicles to St. Pete’s streets by next year.

The ordinance they approved changes the city’s code by defining “micromobility” and regulating e-scooters and other “toy” vehicles.

Councilmember Steve Kornell was the only no vote. He had doubts about the safety of e-scooter drivers because there are no physical barriers between them and other vehicles on the road. 

“I just fundamentally think that’s a mistake,” said Kornell. “It’s good for the people on the sidewalk, but I’m not sure if it’s good for the people on a scooter next to a car.”

Another possible issue is where renters leave the e-scooters when they’re done with them. Some cities allow users to park scooters anywhere as long as they don’t block a pedestrian path. 

Council members voiced concerns about e-scooters becoming an eyesore without designated parking spaces. 

E-scooter resting on a car that has a broken windshield. Courtesy: @birdgraveyard
The Instagram account @birdgraveyard was created June 2018 and has over 110,00 followers. Courtesy @bridgraveyard Instagram

The Instagram account @birdgraveyard documents the misuse of e-scooters worldwide. Common photos on the account include the vehicles being thrown into rivers, fires and through car windshields.

Vendors that submit proposals to the city will be asked to include “corrals,” places where people will be encouraged to return the vehicles to prevent the possibility of mischief. The options vary from a painted sidewalk area to something like bike-share racks.

“It's something that maybe we want to leave flexible,” said Assistant City Attorney Heather Judd. “I do know in some cities, they have technology where they're allowing [e-scooters] to be charged on the street, so we kind of wanted to keep it open for that.”

Even if councilmembers do solidify parking requirements, how the city will enforce those rules is currently unknown. 

“We would work with the vendors to figure out some kind of schedule of warnings and progression to some sort of penalty,” said Transportation and Parking Management Director Evan Mory. “I see starting out with a warning so that there's no financial penalty for the first mistake.”

Prohibited areas for e-scooters in St. Pete will include the Pinellas Trail, west of 34th Street, Central Avenue, the North Bay Trail between Demen’s Landing and Coffee Pot Park, and pedestrian areas of the Pier. 

St. Pete plans to include two to three vendors in the e-scooter pilot program, allowing the city to smooth out any metaphorical bumps in the road. 

“Our goal, and what we've set out to do, is to identify one (corral) per block in the core areas, and then outside the core areas maybe one per couple blocks or an eighth of a mile,” said Mory. “But we really want to see the density.”

According to the new legislation, people riding e-scooters must be over 16 years old. E-scooters will be allowed on streets that have a speed limit of thirty miles per hour or less. Helmets aren’t required, but their use will be encouraged. 

A public hearing will be held on October 17 for a final reading of the ordinance. 

Erin O’Brien is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for summer 2019.
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