Fort Lauderdale will reconsider Tuesday its decision to turn over the city sidewalks to electric scooter riders, as complaints pour in.
Fort Lauderdale is one of the only cities in Florida that allows the dockless scooters, whose riders rent them using a smartphone app, and leave them on a sidewalk when they’re done.
Billed as an experiment, the scooter program faces its fate soon. On Tuesday, city commissioners are scheduled to discuss whether to call the program a success and keep it permanently, perhaps with changes, or call it a failure and rid the streets and sidewalks of hundreds of scooters. No formal vote will be taken Tuesday, but the direction should be clear.
Commissioners also are scheduled to vote on special Spring Break restrictions for the barrier island, including a temporary beach scooter ban because of the heavy crowds.
The novel approach to getting around town has its fans. Scooter advocates say the devices are an inexpensive way to make short trips, leaving cars in the garage.
“They’re a blast! And not just for tourists,” resident Priscilla Juranitch emailed City Hall in January. “We’ve been watching the growing numbers of users scootering around the city and finally decided to try it. It has now become a regular weekend activity for my husband and me. Whatever you do, don’t take them away.”
But emails also have flooded City Hall from residents who say that too many of the riders are children or are dangerous — sometimes intoxicated — drivers, who often dump the scooters like litter, so they’re blocking sidewalks or intruding into streets.
Though initially the city indicated scooters could be used on the streets or in bike lanes, City Attorney Alain Boileau recently advised that’s not the case. Scooters can be allowed in Florida only on sidewalks.
That’s what Fort Lauderdale has done, much to the chagrin of leisurely strollers, joggers and other sidewalk users.
“I’m now dodging skateboards, Rollerbladers, bikes, Segways, other walkers, joggers, and now electric scooters,” 59-year-old Wall Street retiree John Rhoades said. Rhoades emailed the Fort Lauderdale mayor about the scooters, reporting that he’s seen riders as young as 8. He said he and his husband walk the beachfront every day, an exercise routine they enjoyed until the scooter invasion.
“It’s become a walking nightmare and someone is going to get killed,” he warned in an email to Mayor Dean Trantalis.
One city commissioner, Ben Sorensen, is calling for an immediate ban. Trantalis also said the status quo isn’t working.
The city’s planned discussion Tuesday comes as a Broward circuit judge is recovering from a serious scooter accident Sunday that left her hospitalized. Newly seated Broward Circuit Judge Susan Alspector was jogging on the State Road A1A sidewalk at Fort Lauderdale beach when a young rider struck her, the judge’s judicial assistant, Stacy McMenemy, confirmed Monday. The judge fell and was injured.
The judge could not be reached for details about the nature and severity of her injuries. Additional information was not available Monday from the city’s police or fire departments.
It was just the latest injury during the fledgling program. Previously, a woman riding a scooter was seriously injured inside the Kinney Tunnel, and a 14-year-old was struck by a hit-and-run driver in the middle of the night on Federal Highway.
Fire-rescue spokesman Stephen Gollan said the agency is tracking injuries. To date, Fort Lauderdale fire-rescue responded to at least 35 scooter injuries, four of them the most serious “Level 1” trauma category. Their ages ranged from 14 to 62. Most were taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
Thousands of riders have tried out the scooters since Fort Lauderdale legalized them in early November. Four companies — Gotcha, Bird, Lime and Bolt — are allowed to rent up to 1,700 scooters in the city. According to data they’re required to share with the city, every week, about 4,000 people use the scooters, riding for about a half hour on average.
Lime said its average Fort Lauderdale rider is 33 years old, and 77 percent of the scooter rides were made by residents going about their daily errands or trips.
Jed Fluxman, the company’s Florida general manager, said Fort Lauderdale has the only full scooter fleet in the state, and “it’s very important to us for Fort Lauderdale to be a success.”
A small pilot program is under way in Coral Gables. Miami is still issuing permits for its planned trial program. And Tampa is gearing up for one.
Sean Flood, founder and CEO of Gotcha, likened electric scooters to other app-based industry disrupters like ride-hailing company Uber, or the short-term rental facilitator AirBnb. The laws haven’t caught up to the idea of dockless scooters, he said.
He said scooters should be allowed in streets, and cities could encourage them to be parked in dockless hubs, a setup Gotcha already uses. He said the technology also allows companies to cut the maximum speed in designated slow zones where cities might not want scooters traveling at 15 miles an hour.
“Cars have been around for a long time. As they became more popular, we came up with more rules. We should do the exact same thing here,” Flood said.
“We need your help,” Bolt is telling its e-scooter customers. “… Can you please share with us why you value the scooters?” Preparing for Tuesday’s decision on the fate of the scooter program in Fort Lauderdale.
Sorensen urged a quick ban in part because bills were filed in the state Legislature that would prevent cities from regulating scooters any tighter than they regulate bicycles.
In HB 453, Tampa state Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, requires cities to allow electric scooter operators who meet insurance requirements. Cities couldn’t restrict the number of operators or scooters, or place any more restrictions on them than on bicycles. Scooters would be allowed in bike lanes and streets, like bicycles are. A similar bill, SB 542, was filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.
The Florida League of Cities opposes the parts of the bills that strip cities of the ability to regulate scooters themselves, officials there said.
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