Miami Beach

Miami Beach bans scooter rentals over spring break, but not Memorial Day weekend

David Buzaglo (front, left), the owner of Beach Scooter Rentals on Miami Beach, with (back, left to right) Jason Chute, Anthony V. Melvin and Gil Nahmani.
David Buzaglo (front, left), the owner of Beach Scooter Rentals on Miami Beach, with (back, left to right) Jason Chute, Anthony V. Melvin and Gil Nahmani.

Citing public safety concerns, Miami Beach banned motorized scooter rentals for the month of March during the height of spring break, but scrapped plans to apply the restrictions to Memorial Day weekend.

The city also announced a crackdown on the smaller two-wheeled standing scooters that were once the domain of children but have become popular with adults now that motors have been added.

The City Commission amended the proposed rental ban on Wednesday afternoon after motorized scooter rental companies raised objections about including Memorial Day weekend in the ban and vowed to sue.

"We're extremely happy that the city saw the wisdom in not having a ban on Memorial Day weekend," said Juan-Carlos Planas, an attorney with KYMP who represents a political committee formed by six scooter rental businesses. Planas said that while the rental shops are concerned about the new restrictions for the month of March, they hope to work with city officials to find a compromise before spring break.

Scooter rental businesses had argued that a ban over Memorial Day weekend would cripple their businesses and that the restrictions targeted African-American tourists, who typically make up the largest group of visitors during the holiday weekend for the loosely affiliated hip-hop concerts and parties known as Urban Beach Week.

The newly formed political committee, Miami Beach Fair For All, sent a text message blast to 1,200 Miami Beach voters on Tuesday saying that the proposed ban singled out "times of the year most frequented by minority tourists."

Ruban Roberts, president of the NAACP's Miami-Dade branch, previously said the civil rights group was also concerned about the dates of the proposed ban.

Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán, who sponsored the legislation, said the ban was not meant to target any particular group, but to deal with public safety concerns during the times of year when Miami Beach is typically most crowded.

"I know it's not a silver bullet, but it's definitely a step in the right direction," Alemán told the commission on Wednesday. "This is for the safety of our residents. This is for the safety of our visitors, including the riders themselves."

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(Left to right) Gil Nahmani, Jason Chute, Anthony V. Melvin and Michael Belica ride scooters in Miami Beach on Friday, May 4, 2018. Roberto Koltun

Miami Beach residents have complained that tourists on scooters present a safety hazard and cause traffic problems as they zip around the island, sometimes weaving in and out of traffic, entering bike lanes and driving on the wrong side of the road. So far this year, Miami Beach police have issued more than 1,000 tickets to scooter drivers. Police say that during peak tourism periods, they can't keep up with the volume of traffic infractions.

In the month of March alone, when thousands of young people visited Miami Beach for spring break, police gave out more than 450 tickets to scooter drivers. It's unclear how many of those tickets were given to residents, but the number of citations in March was more than double the number in the first two months of the year combined.

Traditional motorized scooters aren't the only mode of transportation under scrutiny in Miami Beach. On Tuesday, the city announced that the police department has determined that under state law certain newer, smaller types of two-wheeled motorized scooters are illegal on public property and would begin impounding the vehicles this weekend.

Under the new motorized scooter ordinance, scooter rental shops are required to put stickers on their scooters so police can quickly distinguish them from privately owned vehicles. The ban does not apply to residents driving their own scooters.

But scooter rental businesses told the commission that tourists would simply go across the bay to rent scooters and drive them to Miami Beach.

"It's not going to solve any problem by closing the businesses," said Ilan Atun, the owner of South Beach rental business Scooter Style. "By letting other people bring scooters from other areas and driving to Miami Beach, you're just hurting the businesses."

The final vote was 4-3, with some commissioners saying they believed the new ban would harm local businesses without solving the safety problems.

Following Wednesday's meeting, Planas said the six scooter rental businesses he represents would begin distributing a list of rules to visitors before they rent scooters. He said they would also be willing to impose a 5 percent surcharge on rentals during busy holiday weekends like Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July and give the extra money to the city to help cover policing costs. In addition, he said the businesses would consider requiring a minimum $300 deposit for rentals during those weekends.

If the businesses aren't able to reach a compromise with the city, however, Planas said they would still consider taking Miami Beach to court.

Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez suggested that an age limit on scooter rentals — similar to the minimum age for car rentals that companies impose on drivers — could be one possible compromise.