Tampa wants electric scooters on its sidewalks

Proposals for the controversial two-wheeled wonders for the city are due November 9.

Cities across the country are still trying to figure out how to regulate their use, but dockless, low-speed electric scooters are headed for Tampa. 

WTSP says that about 1,800 scooters are expected to be available to the public in February, according to Tampa Director of Transportation Jean Duncan.

The program, which would kick off some time after Gasparilla to avoid congestion, puts 1,800 of the dockless scooters throughout downtown with 600 more of them spread between E. Columbus Drive and Martin Luther King Boulevard, according to TBBJ. Several companies — including Bird Rides. Inc. and Coast Bike Share — have responded to the city's request for proposal, which has a November 9 deadline.

Launched in 2017, Bird is a scooter-sharing company that has been dubbed the “Uber of scooters.” Riders locate and unlock scooters using the company’s smartphone app, and after paying the $1 unlocking fee are charged a few cents per minute during use.

Also of note is the "Bird Hunting" culture created by contract workers who charge the scooters overnight. High school and college kids have become particularly good at the practice of scooping scooters after the sun goes down, charging them at home or at dorm rooms and then returning them to "Bird Nests" (aka designated pickup areas) before the next day begins. One Atlantic piece profiled a Los Angeles high school senior who makes several hundred dollars a night putting power into the damn things.

Duncan said that the city is well aware of the issues plaguing electric scooter companies in other municipalities where residents have complained about them being in the right of way or that riders have clipped them on the sidewalk (the scooters go 5-8 MPH). As the scooters' implementation and popularity rises, so do bans. Officials in cities like Los Angeles and Nashville or at universities like Oklahoma State and Arizona State have issued temporary bans, and local legislators have wrestled with just what the rules on the two-wheeled wonders should be.

"We see this as a pioneering front to explore," Duncan said. "We want to learn from past lessons we've seen in other cities."

The city will look at performance measures at the end of the year to evaluate the different companies before issuing another RFP that will probably select one sole vendor to serve city, Duncan said.