After a rowdy 2018 Spring Break, Miami Beach banned motorized scooter rentals for the month of March — a time of year when thousands of young people flood the island.
Miami Beach police gave out over 450 tickets to scooter drivers that month, more than double the number of citations in the first two months of the year combined. Citing public safety concerns, the City Commission voted last May to prohibit rentals during one of the busiest times for tourism.
But some city commissioners are now reconsidering the ban. Instead, they’ve proposed new rules that would require rental shops to equip motorized scooters, mopeds and motorized bicycles with GPS tracking devices and set up a 24/7 hotline for police and code compliance officers to report misbehaving scooter drivers. Scooter shops would have to show their phone number on the vehicles, which are already required to display the name of the rental shop and an ID number.
When a wayward scooter is reported to the hotline, the rental company would remotely deactivate the scooter, said Juan-Carlos Planas, an attorney with KYMP who represents a political committee formed by six scooter rental businesses.
“Whenever these people shut off their scooter and park it, that’s it,” Planas said. “The kill switch will be activated, and they won’t be able to turn it back on and the company will go and pick it up.”
The new rules, which the City Commission will consider at a Jan. 16 meeting, are a compromise proposed by the scooter companies that form part of the political committee Miami Beach Fair for All. They argue that the ban would deal a major blow to their businesses during spring break, which is one of their biggest moneymakers, and that rental shops shouldn’t be punished because some customers disobey traffic laws.
David Buzaglo, the owner of Beach Scooter Rental in Sunset Harbour, said he thinks installing GPS trackers is a better solution than banning rentals — albeit an expensive one. He estimated that it would cost $10,000 to equip his rentals with trackers and the technology to remotely shut them off.
“If a company has the money, then they can comply with that,” he said. “We need to put the GPS. We need to control this business.”
Nicolas Novielli, the owner of VIP Miami Rentals in South Beach, said he was already planning to put GPS devices on his scooters in order to keep track of rentals. Novielli isn’t part of the political committee, but he said that the compromise sounds like a “win-win.”
“Depending on how many scooters you have it can be a huge [expense], but it’s for everybody’s safety,” he said.
Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán, who sponsored the rental ban, is also the co-sponsor of the new rules that would repeal the ban. She said she was willing to give the compromise a shot, but vowed to push for a new rental prohibition if the GPS trackers and hotline fail to curb bad behavior.
“I’m willing to try it, and they know that if it doesn’t work, I’ll be the first one to sponsor going back to the full and complete rental ban,” she said at Miami Beach’s December commission meeting.
Under the new rules, visitors would have to read the list of restrictions before they could take a scooter for a spin. Rental shops would warn customers that they would lose their deposit and their scooters would be shut off if they broke the law, Planas said. Scooter rental companies would also have employees monitoring main streets on busy holiday weekends so they could call in rental scooters that violated the rules, he added.
Overturning the rental ban will be a tough sell for some commissioners, however. The new rules passed an initial vote at the Dec. 12 commission meeting, but several commissioners said they planned to scrutinize the proposal in greater detail before the final vote. Mayor Dan Gelber voted against repealing the ban, saying that he would favor keeping the ban as well as mandating the hotline and GPS trackers.
Some residents and city officials argue that motorized scooters contribute to the crowd control problems and sense of disorder that sometimes overtake the South Beach entertainment district during busy holidays. The rental ban is one of several steps the city has taken as it tries to deal with quality of life issues, such as noise complaints and public drunkenness, in areas frequented by tourists.
But Commissioner Ricky Arriola, who voted against the ban last May and co-sponsored the new rules, said he thinks that bans should be a “last resort, not the first resort.”
“Basically we’re going to put the onus on the rental agency to take corrective action because my whole concern was that we’re penalizing small businesses during their most lucrative periods” due to the bad behavior of customers, he said. “You should be using a scalpel and not a hammer when trying to solve problems,” he added.
The City Commission had initially proposed banning scooter rentals over Memorial Day Weekend as well as the month of March but backed off that idea after rental companies raised objections and vowed to sue. They argued that a Memorial Day ban 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.
Miami Beach isn’t the only city that has struggled to control the use of scooters. Panama City Beach, Florida, passed ordinances in 2017 banning scooter rental businesses starting in 2020 and restricting the hours for rentals until then. Key West also has restrictions limiting the number of scooter rentals.