Miami is poised to become the first large city in Florida to allow fleets of electric, dockless scooters on its streets. But a majority of city commissioners would prefer the two-wheelers stay out of their backyards.
On Thursday, city commissioners unanimously passed on first reading a pilot program proposed by Mayor Francis Saurez and Commissioner Ken Russell to bring back the two-wheelers to downtown, Brickell and Coconut Grove. The vehicles were evicted in June. Unveiled last week, the plan reintroduces the two-wheelers in phases, with fleet caps based on frequency of use.
“I’m in favor of many approaches to solving our traffic issues, particularly those that help fill the ‘last-mile’ gaps between neighborhoods and public transit,” Vice Chairman Ken Russell said in a statement. “This legislation allows scooters to operate under government regulation. It’s a pilot program in my district and I’m excited to test this transit solution.”
But on Thursday, it became clear that, at least for the moment, Russell is the only commissioner enthusiastic about their return.
“In short, I don’t like it,” said Chair Keon Hardemon, who represents residents in Little Haiti, Overtown and Wynwood.
Hardemon said that because the scooters can reach speeds of 15 miles per hour, accidents are inevitable. Under the pilot program, the scooters will be permitted on both streets and sidewalks.
“It does scare me that the city will be engaging in allowing what seems to be a vehicle that could cause injury to people,” he said.
Commissioner Joe Carollo, who represents Little Havana, was equally blunt.
“I don’t want them in my district,” he said.
He said he still deals with complaints from residents about cyclists riding on the sidewalk and sees scooters as an additional nuisance.
Cities across the country are grappling with how to regulate scooters, presented as a solution to short-distance transport in urban cores. San Francisco recently decided to bring back scooters after banning them from its city streets — but are only allowing two small companies to operate fleets under a pilot program. New York is also examining a pilot program. The scooters have proven a hit in Washington DC, which has been operating a year-long pilot program; four scooter companies are now operating there.
Between April, when Lime launched its electric scooter program in Miami, and June, when their use was banned, more than 10,000 Miami residents and visitors made nearly 30,000 trips on the two-wheelers, according to the firm.
Lime’s Miami manager, Jed Fluxman, said he was not put off by the resistance the commissioners showed Thursday.
“We’re looking forward to working directly with the city to address their concerns,” he said. Cars also cause accidents, he said, and the scooters will help take cars off the street.
A spokesperson for Bird, another scooter provider, said it hoped Suarez’s and Russell’s pilot program will be enough to get its vehicles back on the streets.
“We applaud Commissioner Russell’s leadership on investing in equitable transportation options for Miami communities, and we look forward to our continued partnership with local leaders to establish a framework that provides access toBird throughout the region,” the company said in a statement.
But in Thursday’s session, Commissioner Manolo Reyes noted a Washington Post report that in Santa Monica, Calif., emergency responders had reported 34 serious accidents involving the devices this summer, with 18 patients being treated for electric-scooter related accidents in the final two weeks of July.
“This is an accident waiting to happen,” Reyes said. “We have elderly people on our sidewalks ... young mothers ... we have people on wheelchairs. I don’t want this to spill over.”
In agreeing to pass the pilot program on first reading, the commissioners reaffirmed that they will be allowed only in District 2 —Russell’s district. They also reduced the pilot program to six months from a year. In addition, commissioners asked city attorneys to ensure the city would be fully indemnified if any accidents were to occur, and to ensure that scooter operators are fully bonded and insured for any wrongful death or injury claim that could arise.
For now, the pilot program is limited to scooters. Ride-sharing firm Uber is hoping electric bikes will be included as well.
“A lot of people may not want to ride a scooter and may feel more comfortable on a bike,” said Javi Correoso, Uber’s spokesperson in Miami. “The city has invested lots of resources in bike lanes infrastructure, and this is perfect opportunity to bring an innovative product to market for residents to use.”
No scooter riders appeared at Thursday’s hearing. The most vocal supporters were from so-called “juicers”— residents who make money from charging scooters at night. David Fleitas, 54, said that when scooters were on city streets, he was earning about half his income as a juicer — up to $90 a day. Before, he was a full-time Uber driver.
“I prefer the charging — you don’t have to deal with the public, or being in a car all day,” he said.