CLEARWATER — There will be no more than 200 of them available in the city and you can’t rent one unless you’re at least 16.
Those are among the limitations the City Council is eyeing for Clearwater’s upcoming scooter rental pilot program. The rules, which would amend Chapter 25 of the city’s public conveyance code, govern not only where and when the scooters may be ridden, but define the responsibilities of scooter companies.
The program, which could begin in early 2020, will test the feasibility of permanently allowing Lime, Bird, Uber, Lyft, or other scooter companies to rent the conveyances in downtown. The CityCcouncil wants to create a workable foundation before offering scooter companies long-term licenses to rent micromobility devices, including scooters.
The program that Clearwater Transportation Director Richard Hartman presented to the council on Nov. 18 includes a way to control their use and ensure they aren’t left on the ground, blocking sidewalks and building entryways. The council was expected to approve the first of two required votes on Nov. 21.
“I researched other cities and how they handle the problems they face with the scooters,” Hartman said. “We have worked hard to come up with answers for Clearwater.”
Other cities use them successfully
In Washington, D.C., Alexandria, Va., and countless other cities, rental scooters help riders on relatively short drives, for instance, to get from their apartments to the nearest bus stop or subway station. Employees who live and work in downtown Clearwater would use the scooters to commute, to drive from the condos to the grocery store for a few items, and for other quick jaunts. They are inexpensive to rent, ranging from 10 cents to 33 cents per minute, through a smartphone app. In many cities, riders are allowed to lean them against a building or lay them in the grass for the next rider. They are ubiquitous, blocking sidewalks, driveways, and storefronts.
The pilot program is set for a downtown box defined by Clearwater Harbor on the west, Drew Street on the north, Missouri Avenue on the east, and Chestnut Street on the south. In addition to limiting their use between 6 a.m. and midnight and setting scooter speed limits at 15 mph, Hartman proposes banning them on Clearwater Beach, Sand Key, Island Estates, and the Clearwater Memorial Causeway.
Instead of letting riders lay scooters down on sidewalks, grass or lean them against buildings, riders must park scooters in designated areas (called corrals) that Lime, Uber, Lyft, Bird or other scooter companies will lease from the city. The city requires scooter rental companies to identify and mark the locations of the corrals in downtown. A map of corrals in downtown Clearwater is available via the scooter provider’s app.
Hartman described for the Beacon how the city — with the participation of the companies — will regulate scooter parking.
What a scooter ride looks like
A fictional rider name William wants to drive from his apartment at The Nolen apartments on lower Cleveland Street to the County Courthouse in downtown Clearwater. A handful of scooters await him less than a block away in a scooter corral that is leased by a scooter rental operator. William walks up to the corral, opens the scooter app on his smartphone, and keys in the number on the scooter. Safe riding tips, and a release of liability protecting the scooter company pop up on his smartphone screen. Once William agrees to the waiver, he can start the scooter.
The smartphone also displays a map that show the roads where William can drive the scooter; it is banned from streets with speed limits of 30 mph or higher. The map also displays corrals near the courthouse. All of this is presented before William drives away so he doesn’t have to read while driving. A geo-fencing feature shuts the scooter down when riders drive on banned streets. Other vendors send an audible warning to the rider’s phone.
William then drives it to the County courthouse, using streets and following traffic rules. He parks in the corral, but before he walks away, he must photograph his scooter (standing upright) so the scooter provider knows he parked appropriately rather than simply laying the scooter somewhere. The scooter signals the scooter rental company when William or other rider lays a scooter on its side.
The scooter provider helps ensure proper parking by charging riders an additional fee for incorrect parking, Hartman said.
“To prove you are parked in a corral, the rider has to send a photo to the operator,” Hartman said. “If you don’t send a photo, the scooter provider gives you an additional fine or fee.”
If an improperly parked scooter is not moved in a specified time, the city will impound the scooter and charge the company towing and other fees.
Once his business at the courthouse ends, William selects another scooter at the courthouse corral (someone else has grabbed the one he used to get here), and drives to Publix, where he parks in another scooter corral. When he returns home, he leaves the scooter in the original corral near his apartment.
Scooter safety in the agreement
The average scooter can travel more than 20 miles on a charge. They run out of juice throughout the day, so scooter companies hire local people to collect them the various corrals for recharging. A scooter takes five hours to charge, usually overnight.
Cities also report that scooter riders ignore stop signs, whip in and out of traffic and ride on sidewalks, which leads to serious injury and death when these unprotected micromobility devices collide with vehicles and pedestrians.
In the proposed rules for scooter rentals, Clearwater police will pull over and ticket, or arrest, scooter riders who run stop signs, drive the wrong way, drive under the influence, or break other moving traffic laws.
To reduce potential scooter accidents and injuries, the city could require scooter companies to:
• Provide scooter safety demonstrations for new riders
•. Offer classes on how to ride scooters
• Offer free or discounted helmets, helmet-fitting lessons
• Have operating front headlights and rear brake lights
• Continuously inspect and maintain safe scooters
•Scooter companies also pay $250 to apply for entry into the pilot program; pay $5,000 once accepted into the pilot; and pay $50 for each corral location.
• Scooter companies must provide general liability insurance equal to $1 million per occurrence and $2 million aggregate; automobile liability insurance equal to $500,000 limit per occurrence or $1 million combined, and other insurance.
• The companies are Internet-based, which means contacting a human being can be a challenge. To counter that, Hartman wants to require each scooter company to have a fulltime rep who keeps business hours in an office within city limits. That representative also must be able to respond to messages when not open and respond within 24 hours.
The City Council approved the first reading of the plan at its Nov. 21 meeting. The council must approve it on second reading before it can go into effect.
The city hopes to publish its first request for proposals for scooter companies in February, Hartman said. Staff will review RFPs and interview applicants in March and April, and select scooter companies at the end of April. Rental scooters could appear on the streets in May. The pilot program is to last 12 months, after which the city will determine whether it’s feasible to continue.