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Electric Scooters Return to Downtown Miami For Five Weeks

Downtown Miami’s break from electric scooters lasted about a week, but they’re coming back with more regulations during a busy holiday season that brings thousands of art lovers and tourists to the city.

(TNS) — Downtown Miami’s break from electric scooters lasted about a week, but they’re coming back with more regulations during a busy holiday season that brings thousands of art lovers and tourists to the city.

Seven companies that rent out dockless electric scooters are allowed to operate again in downtown, Edgewater, Brickell and Coconut Grove after Miami commissioners voted on Monday to relaunch a temporary program they had canceled only days earlier.

The vote allows the scooters back on the street for five more weeks. But this time, riders will be required to wear helmets. The commission also cut the number of scooters allowed to be parked on sidewalks to reduce clutter, and reduced hours of operation. Before, riders could use e-scooters until midnight. Now, the scooters can only be used between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

It was unclear Monday afternoon how soon scooter companies could deploy their scooters and comply with the new helmet requirement. Some companies indicated they could require riders to submit selfies with their helmets on their heads before the scooters are activated. Some firms told commissioners they could get on the street this week, while others said it could take several days before they can relaunch.

It appears the only consequence for people riding without helmets could be the city revoking a company’s right to operate, as state law protects cyclists without helmets from fines. That could make it harder for the city’s rules to have teeth, though the commission may challenge this later by creating a city ordinance.

Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla led the vote to shut down scooters on Nov. 18, calling Miami’s electric scooter program “an accident waiting to happen.” Coincidentally, that vote came hours after Miami Mayor Francis Suarez attended a conference in Los Angeles where he touted micromobility. Suarez received criticism on social media and in correspondence over the change.

Suarez called Monday’s commission meeting so that Díaz de la Portilla could lead a vote to bring scooters back with stricter requirements. He argued that while scooters should be available during Miami Art Week and the holiday season, they need to be safer.

“We’re bringing it back on a temporary basis to allow it for some special events that are taking place, like Art Basel and others that really do require micromobility,” Díaz de la Portilla said. “There’s a need for that, and we understand that balance that we’re trying to find.”

Monday’s vote only allows electric scooters to operate until Jan. 5 due to a city law that limits the length of temporary programs. The scooter pilot program has operated since 2019, with a few pauses during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a few commission-approved extensions.

After Jan. 5, it is unclear if scooters could be temporarily outlawed while the city completes a public bid to select three vendors that would operate under a permanent program — a process that could be prolonged if losing bidders challenge the results.

For now, scooters have a lane to return for the end of 2021 after Monday’s 3-1 vote to bring them back. Commissioner Ken Russell, who represents the only areas where the scooters are legally allowed, has touted electric scooters as a good solution for commuters to travel the first and last mile of their trips. The program has also raised $2.5 million in new revenue for the city, about half of which has been spent on new bike lanes, according to Deputy City Manager Nzeribe Ihekwaba.

“Thankful my fellow commissioners are open to improving the program instead of canceling it,” Russell said in a statement on social media following the vote. “We need alternatives to cars.”

Transit advocates agreed Monday, although some also said that additional local government regulations could improve the way Miami manages the program.

“Ending the scooter program will not end scooter ridership in Miami,” said Kevin Amézaga, a web developer and executive director of nonprofit advocacy group Miami Riders Alliance. “But what will end is a regulated scooter ridership. We can’t stop people from riding scooters at 20 mph on the sidewalk. That’s state law. But what we can do is regulate them on a shared scooter.”

Opponents, including many residents from Miami’s urban core, call electric scooters a dangerous nuisance operating under a program that has too many loopholes to prevent underage riders or stop scooters from ending up in places where they’re not permitted. Downtown resident Desiree D’souza said her niece was once knocked to the ground on the sidewalk by a child riding an electric scooter.

“Please, I beg of you all, get these things off,” she told commissioners. “They’re a menace to society.”

D’souza also noted that Suarez was not inside the commission chamber during the meeting. Suarez watched the meeting from his second floor office and later told the Miami Herald that he commended commissioners for reinstating the program with regulations that should address some of residents’ concerns.

The mayor said given his administration’s focus on supporting innovative technology, new business and micromobility, the commission’s vote was aligned with the city’s priorities.

“This is in line with who we are,” Suarez said. “Having said that, the program had flaws. They needed to be fixed.”

Russell and Commissioner Christine King joined Díaz de la Portilla in voting to bring scooters back. During the discussion, King was skeptical about rerouting police resources to enforce scooter rules. She insisted she could only vote for a program with a helmet requirement and said riders need training before they use the devices.

“No matter how old you are, if you’re getting on this scooter for the first time when you don’t know how to operate the scooter, you put yourself in danger,” she said. “I saw a young lady in Midtown, who was well over 18, on a scooter, fall and bust her derriere.”

Commissioner Manolo Reyes, a steadfast critic of electric scooters, voted no. Commissioner Joe Carollo was absent.

A spokesperson for one of the scooter companies, Lime, said in a statement that the vendor hopes to keep scooters in Miami and support the construction of protected bike lanes to make riding e-scooters safer.

“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,” said Bruno Lopes, Lime’s senior manager for government relations. “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.”

© 2021 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.