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Friday, Jul 19, 2019
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Electric scooters can now ride in Tampa streets and bike lanes

TAMPA - All those people zipping around Tampa sidewalks on electric scooters can now legally ride them in city streets and bike lanes, greatly expanding choices for a program that is being closely watched by governments around Tampa Bay.

The scooters, which are not supposed to go faster than 15 mph, were limited to sidewalks until Gov. Ron Desantis signed a bill this week lifting the restriction. They are meant to help people get to destinations that are too far to walk, but not far enough to merit a car trip. Riders rent the scooters through an app on their smart phone.

Not everyone is thrilled with the new flexibility. Some riders worry about having to depend on drivers for their safety, a lament often heard from local bicyclists. Some don't think the scooters are safe in any circumstance.

"I don't think they should be on streets at all," said Tampa resident Robin Miskel, 38, who said her father broke his kneecap when he tripped over a scooter in California.

Timur Cachia-Aydin, 31, said he is glad scooters will be allowed on roads in a city that lacks good public transportation. But he worries about liability.

"If I'm on a scooter and get hurt due to a mechanical issue, are the companies or the City of Tampa liable?" he asked.

Vivian Myrtetus, the government affairs manager for the Florida branch of Lime, one of four companies renting scooters in Tampa, called the bill signing "a win." She said it provides clarity to municipalities looking to offer the scooters, which have found a market in a number of cities around the United States.

The new rides were rolled out here in May as part of a year-long pilot program. Around 170 scooters are now in operation, said Jean Duncan, the city's transportation director. That number could grow to as many as 2,400 during the pilot.

Data on whether riders are obeying speed limits is still being collected, Duncan said. But there have been problems. During the first weeks of operation, people were spotted riding the scooters in banned areas, such as the Tampa Riverwalk, or parking them haphazardly and blocking sidewalks and entryways.

Scooters are required to be docked in specific locations called "corrals." Duncan said the city is hoping for a maximum of 240 corrals. No-ride zones include the Riverwalk, Bayshore Boulevard and East Seventh Street in Ybor City.

Duncan said she's been pleasantly surprised at the relatively small number of complaints she's received so far. That could change by Aug. 1, she acknowledged, when she meets with the Tampa City Council to discuss citizen grievances.

"We just really want to keep the message out there that we want this program to stay but it takes a safe management of it," Duncan said.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican and one of the bill's sponsors, said the bill provides cities with local control over how and where the scooters can be used.

"We wanted to make sure of that because this is a new and evolving technology,'' he said.

While details of the city's operating agreements with the scooter companies can change, Duncan expects their access to Tampa's roads and bike lanes to remain.

But hopefully, she said, riders will choose low-speed streets.

? Contact Amanda Zhou at azhou@tampabay.com. Follow @amondozhou.

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