Florida Scoots Along

By Alyssa Davenport, FJA’s Communications Coordinator

Someone has been leaving e-scooters all over Florida’s cities. The recent emergence of a new technology may be revolutionizing short-distance transportation. Instead of walking, biking, ride-hailing, or driving to your destinations, you can now scoot.

E-scooters have been most commonly spotted and utilized in larger metropolitan areas, including but not limited to the cities of Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Denver, and Miami. The renewed interest in scooters is attracting a diverse group of users. Pilot programs have begun to mushroom in communities across the nation to meet increasing demand.

So, what exactly are these e-scooters? These devices are dockless, battery-powered skateboards with handlebars that can reach speeds of 15 miles per hour. After you download an app, it takes a dollar to start the e-scooter and then operators are charged per minute ridden.

Users can operate e-scooters on sidewalks, roads, and in bike lanes. That, combined with the ability for these scooters to be dropped anywhere for the next person to pick up has prompted concerns about pedestrian safety and public display.

Ride hailing companies, including Uber and Lyft, have developed e-scooters to be placed throughout cities, as well as other companies including Lime and Bolt. World-record holding Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt has an ownership interest in the company.

Although Bolt primarily operates in Europe, it is expected to spread to the U.S. as the trend of e-scooters grow. While individual law may vary, many cities allow these scooters to be operated on both sidewalks and bike lanes, creating a seemingly efficient, affordable, and quite frankly, amusing way to get to your destination.

While it may appear to be fun and games, there is a sobering element of danger that comes with operating an e-scooter. On July 13, a Tampa man died of injuries he suffered in an e-scooter crash. Police say the victim was not operating the machinery with a helmet.

Apparently, the scooter’s brakes locked suddenly and propelled the operator into a curb and throwing him to the ground. While each scooter company recommends helmet usage, it is not a requirement by Florida law.

Florida isn’t the only state facing this issue. According to Consumer Reports, there have been over 1,500 scooter-related injuries across the country.

Safety concerns are growing as the market expands. Given the recent spike in scooter popularity, questions surrounding responsibility, liability and the adequacy of safety laws are on an apparent collision course with supporters of limited regulation.

Given the convenience of the scooters, as they are often littered on the streets and sidewalks of the city they occupy, regulating accessibility and where scooters are accessed is becoming a challenge. In addition to the questions regarding consumer safety, a new data standard is causing controversy for these private transportation companies.

The Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) is an organization geared towards increasing safety, ensuring equity, improving quality of life, and protecting privacy. Miami is one of OMF’s founding cities. The city is working to get a handle on collecting, maintaining, and standardizing where these rideshare vehicles are parked.  

OMF will use Mobility Data Specification, a tool founded by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, to monitor where the scooters are, where they’ve been, and whether they are still functional. The software will allow cities to share information with the private transportation companies.

The companies are not on board though. They are fighting this development, and are concerned the government’s data collection will endanger consumers.

With school beginning in August and the Florida Legislature set to return for committee meetings in September, the e-scooter craze has hit Florida’s Capital City. The move by the e-scooter industry into Tallahassee may be a spark that ignites a legislative debate over e-scooter safety. Stay tuned.

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