Gainesville will collect data on scooter usage to gauge whether the devices pose a public safety issue.
Hundreds of electric scooters may soon be seen zipping through the streets of Gainesville — and also left dormant on sidewalks — in the coming months.
City officials are gearing up for the launch of Gainesville's first batch of dockless electric scooters, which could test residents' maturity and patience.
Though some have expressed excitement about the green alternative scooters offer, others are outraged at the devices cluttering their hometowns. Cities around the country have reported people tripping over the devices while walking on sidewalks and riders weaving in and out of traffic.
In September, commissioners are expected to vote on an ordinance that would allow companies to send as many as 1,500 pay-to-ride scooters into the public after going through a permit process that the University of Florida also must approve.
“I think moving forward on a pilot program is a good idea,” said City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos. “We need to continually explore all mobility options in the city.”
Last year, representatives for RazorUSA emailed the city inquiring about a permit to launch a new electric scooter service, called “Razor Last Mile.” Razor selected Gainesville as the first city in the country to launch its fleet, though other companies, like Lime, Bird and Spin, also have expressed interest.
Gainesville officials studied the range of issues seen around the country with dockless scooters before signing off on the idea, taking an approach they believe is centered around regulation and safety.
If the city's proposed ordinance is approved, up to three companies would each be allowed to release 250 scooters within city limits during the first 30 days of the launch. After that, those same companies may each be allowed to have as many as 500 scooters. The date the ordinance would take effect hasn't been set.
Much of the scooter usage will be centered around UF. The university also has a say in which permits get approved. Devices would be treated as bicycles, allowing riders to use bike lanes and sidewalks. Speeds will be capped at 15 mph and will be unavailable to riders after 10 p.m.
“Anywhere a bike can go, these can go,” said Malisa McCreedy, the city’s director of mobility.
Users can access scooters through a smartphone app and must pay for every minute of use. When done, the scooters can be left just about anywhere, except in roadways, until the next person comes along and takes it for a spin. Unlike the city’s bike share program, Zagster, scooters have no home base or dock. They cost $1 to unlock and an additional 15 cents per minute.
Social media pages, like @birdgraveyard on Instagram, are devoted to the issues that can arise from electric scooters, aside from traffic concerns.
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The page is chock-full of videos and photos showing people hurling scooters into bodies of water and glass windows. They have been buried at the beach, set on fire, intentionally broken and dogs have urinated and defecated on them.
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The scooters have created headaches for city officials around the country, with some opting to ban them entirely. The devices have tracking devices that allow the companies to recover the devices and send them out again. If companies don’t comply with the rules, McCreedy said the city can revoke permits or levy fines. Enforcement, she said, will be done by law enforcement and parking officers.
At least 10% of the scooters will be launched in disadvantaged areas, such as southeast Gainesville, which has limited transportation compared to other areas in the city. The city also will log data, such as reported accidents and vandalism, to gauge if the scooters create a public safety issue.
“Safety is a primary concern,” McCreedy said.
As the city gears up for the electric devices, it also looks to move forward with its long-delayed autonomous shuttle. The self-driving minibus was originally scheduled to be launched last May and has been delayed several times since.
The bus, which can carry up to 12 people through downtown to UF and back, needs a waiver from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before hitting the road. It’s also had issues in traffic.
“It’s the complexity of the route and roundabouts,” McCreedy said.
Assistant City Manager Dan Hoffman said that he had a positive meeting with NHTSA officials earlier this month and expects that the city will receive its needed waiver soon. He said Gainesville will have the most advanced self-driving shuttle route in the country.
This story originally published to gainesville.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.