CLEARWATER — The City Council wants to reduce the risk that electric scooters and other micro-mobility vehicles have created in other Florida tourist towns.
The tiny urban conveyances — which can be located and rented by smartphone apps in a growing number of cities — are seen by city planners worldwide as an answer to noise, congested streets, and air pollution.
But Clearwater Transportation Director Richard Hartman on June 3 asked the council to postpone the use and/or rental of electric scooters and other micro-mobility devices for at least six months so the city can study the risk they pose to pedestrians and other motorists. Hartman’s staff also will write rules to regulate how many companies it will allow to rent the devices, how fast the scooters can go, and possibly, where they can be used, he said.
Hartman’s request follows the passage of Florida House Bill 453, which Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign into law soon. The new law would grant electric scooters and other micro-mobility devices all of the rights and duties applicable to the rider of a bicycle, including the right to operate motorized scooters on sidewalks, streets, and trails. The Legislature’s permissive use standards create safety hazards for pedestrians and others in Clearwater, making it vital for the city to regulate their use, Hartman told the council.
“We don’t have regulations specific to these types of uses or these operations,” Hartman told the council. “One is, in Clearwater you cannot use motorized devices on sidewalks, and they are not registered, so you can’t use them on the roads. Unfortunately, this legislation seems to allow them to be used in both locations.”
Some towns have experimented with geo-fencing, Hartman said, which uses GPS or radio frequency identification technology that automatically shuts off a scooter trying to leave a defined area.
“Most of the jurisdictions have introduced pilot programs in restricted areas,” he said. “You control the speed from as low as 8 miles an hour — the speed of a casual bicycle rider on a sidewalk — to as fast as 15 mph.”
Florida tourist destinations like Fort Lauderdale have already received a flood of emailed complaints about electric scooters, including riders simply laying them on the ground once their time is up; intoxicated drivers attempting to jump hedges and curbs; and inexperienced operators colliding with cars and people.
Councilmember Hoyt Hamilton said he liked the idea of a temporary ban.
“Somebody’s going to come out of one of the establishments downtown after having probably one or two too many, and they are going to get on one of these, and they’re going to fall and get hurt,” Hamilton said. “They are going to say, ‘The place where I consumed my alcohol shouldn’t have let me drink,’ then they’re going to go to the (scooter company) and say, ‘You shouldn’t have let me on one in that condition’, then they’re going to come after the city because the city allows the company to operate.”
The Clearwater ban would not include motorized bicycles, Hartman said.
Hartman and his staff want to study how other towns regulate electric scooters before proposing final guidelines to the City Council. Pilot programs Hartman has seen limit how fast the vehicles can go, determine where rental hubs must be located, and require rental companies to have local employees so they can solve problems quickly. Requiring certain levels of insurance coverage also is a must, he said.
National companies like Bird, Inc., and Spin began asking Clearwater city officials about their rules in the fall, which spurred City Manager Bill Horne to create a city panel on electric scooter regulation.
“City Manager Bill Horne asked for a review of the existing rules,” Hartman said, “then we waited for the Legislature to let its intentions be known. By equating them with bicycles, Bill 453 presents a whole host of issues.”
Hamilton urged his fellow councilmembers to approve the moratorium, which they did at their June 5 meeting.
“It’s probably the one mode of transportation where you are absolutely responsible for what occurs while you’re on it, you and those two wheels, that’s it,” he said. “I am more than comfortable waiting 180 days to let the dust settle. These things scare the heck out of me, personally.”
Councilman David Allbritton agreed.
“We have to be concerned about the safety issue,” he said. “You’re going to have to develop some type of safety program so they’re not piled up in the middle of the sidewalks and knocking people over.”
The use of scooter share, ride-share and other green transportation are also part of the city’s plan to reduce traffic congestion as well as reducing its sustainability goals to reduce carbon emissions.