Miami’s scooter drought may be coming to an end.
On Wednesday, Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell submitted draft legislation that would allow electric, dockless scooter companies to legally operate in the city as part of a one-year pilot program. The goal is to test the two-wheelers’ popularity and safety in the Magic City.
“The horror stories of other cities are apparent,” Russell said in a phone interview. “We studied what other cities have been through to come up with this — it’s important to get it right if we’re going to do it.”
The proposal comes three months after the city issued cease-and-desist letters to scooter companies then operating in the city without any formal license.
Russell told the Miami Herald that the situation caused some headaches — but that the period proved instructive.
“It certainly showed us there was an appetite from the consumer side, that if we made them available and safe people would use them,” he said.
Almost immediately after being banned, scooter companies including Lime, Spin, Bird, Uber, and Waybot began a lobbying campaign to find a way back in. Among them was San Francisco-based Lime, the first company to introduce dockless transportation in Miami-Dade when it launched freestanding, rentable pedal-powered bikes on Key Biscayne last year.
“[Miami] is high density, it’s warm — it’s just perfect [for scooter use],” Lime CEO Toby Sun told the Miami Herald in a recent interview during a visit to the city.
Under the proposed pilot program, scooters could be used only in Russell’s district, in Coconut Grove, Brickell and Edgewater. For a $50,000 fee, any scooter company could apply for an operating license. Companies would be allowed a fleet of 50 scooters each for the first two weeks, with the ability to increase by another 50 the second week. The proposal does not cover dockless bikes.
At the end of each month during the proposed pilot, companies would be assessed on whether each scooter was used at least three times per day on average. If so, the company would be able to increase its fleet by 25 percent. If the average usage is found to be less than two rides per day per scooter, the company would have to reduce its fleet by 25 percent.
Russell envisions open competition to win a formal license to permanently operate in the city.
“I’m looking for who is the best steward of this mode of transportation,” he said. “And that involves customer service, cooperation with the city, and the quality of product.”
Miami Beach banned some scooters in May, and dockless scooter companies like Lime have interpreted this to mean that they too are barred.
Nationwide, critics have complained that the dockless scooters become litter when left strewn about the city. To address this, Russell says the Miami Parking Authority has agreed to dedicate staff to picking up scooters left in city rights of way. Citizens will also be directed to call a number on each scooter letting a given company know it must come pick up its equipment.
The plan is intended to pre-empt complaints to police and towing.
In a statement to the Miami Herald Wednesday, Mayor Francis Suarez, a co-sponsor of Russell’s proposal, said he sees scooters “as a great alternative to traditional modes of transportation.”
“Not only do they get cars off the street, but we can travel both close distances and to the nearest mass transit station,” he said. “As with any new technology, we must utilize regulations and oversight to ensure safety and that our residents are not negatively impacted by this first and last mile solution.”
The city of Miami’s move would come on the heels of a pilot program in Coral Gables with Spin, another California-based scooter company. Launched in August, that program made Coral Gables the first city in Florida to officially allow scooters.
Russell’s proposal will get a first reading Sept. 13. He believes that the scooters can help chip away at Miami’s transit woes.
“This is a very viable alternative to taxis, Ubers, trains — the average ride is about 1.5 miles,” he said. “What it presents is really incredible opportunity to get to transit and use transit for people who otherwise wouldn’t.”