The humble electric scooter has come under attack in the city of Miami, in Florida, culminating in a ban on its use in November. However, the battery scooter is getting a reprieve as the city commissioners have voted to allow it to return temporarily.
Electric scooters are an inexpensive and non-polluting way to get around. They are also fun to ride, which explains their growing popularity. Several electric scooter operators like Bird and Lime participated in a years-long trial that allowed Miami residents to rent and ride the scooter in some parts of the city. The scooters could be rented through mobile apps.
However, in a four to five vote, the Miami City Commission put an end to the scheme in a last-minute legislative maneuver, with immediate effect, on the 18th of November. The scooter operators were given hours to clear their machines from the streets or risk being impounded.
While scooter riders tout the benefits, critics point out how the electric scooters cause multiple problems, including cluttering the sidewalks and exposing inexperienced riders to injuries that are sometimes fatal.
This was the sentiment of Commissioner Diaz de la Portilla, who was at the forefront of the effort to get electric scooters off the streets. “On Biscayne Boulevard, at whatever hour of the day, you see kids on these scooters. This is an accident waiting to happen.”
Reactions trailed Miami’s move to ban the scooter, with Caroline Samponaro, VP at Lyft, saying, “We’re extremely disappointed in the Commission’s hasty and short-sighted action to end the scooter program, taking away a safe and popular transportation option used by thousands of Miami residents daily and putting dozens of workers out of a job the week before Thanksgiving.”
Lime’s Phil Jones also expressed his disappointment at the ban. “It comes as more of a shock to our tens of thousands of riders and the dozens of Miami-based workers we employ whose livelihoods are being toyed with. We’ve long worked with the City of Miami to provide safe, affordable, and sustainable transportation options for residents and visitors, and we’ve invested millions of dollars into our micro-mobility program here.”
Samponaro, however, was hopeful the mayor of Miami, who had made comments supporting shared electric scooters, would step in and restore the trial program.
It appears Samponaro has got her wishes as Miami commissioners have in another vote agreed to launch a new program that will let six electric scooter companies operate in Edgewater, Brickell, and Coconut Grove.
However, the program is temporary as it will end on the 5th of January, 2022. The short duration was courtesy of a city law that limits how long temporary programs can be.
Interestingly, this vote for a new trial was led by Commissioner Portilla, who had been instrumental to the ban in the first place. The poll ended three to one.
Miami could make more changes at the end of the temporary trial, like freezing operation again while it whittles down the number of operators to three for permanent licenses.
“This news comes as a relief to Miami residents who’ve long relied on e-scooters as a safe, affordable, and sustainable way to get around. We look forward to working closely with the commissioners and Mayor Suarez to develop a permanent program that prioritizes safety for riders and non-riders alike,” said Bruno Lopes, senior manager for government relations at Lime. “We specifically hope the city will continue to invest the millions of dollars in e-scooter fees Lime and other operators pay into protected bike lanes, the most proven way to ensure the safety of all road users.”
Conditions for the continued operation are stricter, as riders will now have to wear helmets at all times. There is also a more stringent limit on how many scooters can park on the sidewalks.
Other cities have banned electric scooters, including Nashville, after an intoxicated rider died in an accident. However, just like Miami, Nashville agreed to continue the pilot program a few months later.
Electric scooter supporters point out that accidents are usually caused by other road users like cars and trucks. City authorities can do much more to protect scooter riders, including making dedicated bike lanes that are protected, promoting walking, bicycling, and riding scooters instead of driving cars, etc.