City officials wrestle with both providing and controlling usage of the popular electric scooter rentals downtown
FORT PIERCE – People of all ages have suddenly found the downtown historic district here even more inviting due to the ease of zipping around via electric scooters, but not everyone is onboard with the electric scooter system inaugurated Sept. 12.
City Manager Nick Mimms provide the City Commission an update Sept. 23 on the scooters provided by Zagster, the same company utilized by Fort Pierce, Port St. Lucie and St. Lucie County to operate a regional bike-share program.
“We have over 5,000 rentals, averaging 36 minutes per rental,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I was one of those rentals, me and my crew -- me and my sons, the scooter gang -- and we took a trip all around Fort Pierce. We started at Longwood Stadium, rode the banks of Moore’s Creek, went to the river and went to the City Marina.”
Mr. Mimms admitted that Zagster has had to make adjustments to ease any potential negative effects of the scooter craze, which has swept cities across the state and nation in recent months. These included lowering the possible speed of the scooters, which are also available in Fort Pierce Beach – and additional geofence limitations, which utilize the incorporated GPS system on each bike to prevent its operation in certain areas. All Zagster scooters are geofenced off the Seaway Drive bridge over the Fort Pierce Inlet.
“Now we have had some complaints, and I have to give it to Zagster, it has responded to those issues,” he explained. “One was about rider age, and they then instituted the driver’s license scan feature, and also the speed downtown. The speed downtown was decreased from 25 miles per hour to 10 miles per hour. Then during special events, they’re working to create no-ride zones during special events. The vendor has been very responsive, and like I said, they were not anticipating this level of enjoyment and participation.”
Mayor Linda Hudson then suggested another potential area to limit scooter operations.
“I was cleaning Jetty Park on Sunday morning, and they were going all the way out to the jetty,” she said. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“No, probably not,” responded Mr. Mimms, unable to contain his laughter.
“You know people were fishing, there’s fishing lines, so I’m thinking that perhaps we need to limit that,” the mayor continued.
“We need to change the geofence,” chimed in Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson.
Other cities around Florida have also struggled with how to regulate similar electric scooter rentals since Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill in early June loosening restrictions on the vehicles – which were previously limited to sidewalks – and giving municipalities the choice of crafting their own regulations.
Commissioner Rufus Alexander admitted he’d personally been chewed about by residents complaining about children operating the scooters and wants Fort Pierce to take advantage of its new freedom to prohibit them from sidewalks.
“They say they drive all over the grass and run old people off the sidewalks, and they’re not utilizing these bike lanes,” he fumed. “We need to curtail that now. I don’t know how we can get that message out to the young people, but maybe they need to put some type of signage on these scooters, you know, to stay off the sidewalks. Somebody’s going to get hurt – they’re talking about how fast they’re just scooting.”
Commissioner Alexander then asked Fort Pierce Police Chief Diane Hobley-Burney if she’d had complaints in the 11 days since the rental scooters zipped into Downtown Fort Pierce.
“Yes sir, we are getting complaints about the scooters,” the latter responded. “They’re coming from all over, but as Mr. Mimms said, we are addressing that with the person that is managing them to hopefully take care of some of these issues.”
For her part, Mayor Hudson said she’d gotten a mixed response from the public about Zagster’s new downtown transportation option but wanted to clarify that Fort Pierce was not making any money off the scooter rentals.
“I’m getting about equal ‘this is really great’ and some “I’m really concerned about safety,’ so it’s kind of about half and half for me,” she emphasized. “We’re not doing this to make money: This is for enjoyment, this is for transportation and this is for providing a young aspect to our community.”
The city manager believes the Zagster scooters, which must be activated with a credit card and driver’s license via smartphone, have succeeded with drawing more people outside to enjoy the natural beauty of the city and its waterfront location on the Indian River.
“I will say that from a tourism aspect and an entertainment aspect, I’ve never seen so many younger generation people out in the afternoon and the evening on a Sunday or a Saturday in Fort Pierce,” he exclaimed. “You know, we’re getting them out of the house. I think it’s doing wonders for our tourism. I think people are coming in from outside of our community, coming into our community and enjoying our community, and I believe the exposure will have an economic impact on our community.”
Mr. Mimms insists the Zagster operation is more organized it how it controls the return of the scooters than other systems he’d recently observed in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Patrons must leave the scooters in an appropriate location and position or the system will not let them end the rental, which begins with $1 to unlock the scooter and 25 cents for every subsequent minute of ride time.
“I can tell you one thing, I’ve been to other communities, and I saw the scooters were just left everywhere, and I believe that Zagster does have a much more organized approach,” he said. “You have to park them, and you have to leave them in a functional and reasonable position. Until you do that, the ride continues, and you cannot end the ride.”
While some residents have complained about scooters being left in their front yards, Commissioner Johnson said they were actually being left in the city’s right of way in a location acceptable by Zagster, which collects the bikes, recharges them overnight and then replaces them in several downtown areas and along Seaway Drive in Fort Pierce Beach.
“These are being regulated and they’re geofenced,” Commissioner Johnson affirmed. “If you knock it over or you lay it down in a bad spot, you get charged, and you also get banned from using them.
Unfortunately there have been some folks that have said ‘they left them in my yard.’ Well it was in front of the house on the sidewalk where they usually mow the grass, [and] that’s owned by the city.”
Commissioner Alexander said he’d heard that Downtown Orlando had banned electric scooters and wanted the city manager to find out if that was true and why. Mr. Mimms did provide a memo to the Commission on Sept. 27 that included an article on the Orlando’s use of electric bicycles already provided downtown by the Lime microbility firm, which also offers electric scooters. That city is still working out the kinks and complaints of the dock-less bicycles strewn about town and decided to put electric scooters on hold for a year to further analyze the electric bicycle program. Other Florida cities can decide to implement such a restriction, and similar laws have been passed in other states as well. Shortly after Gov. DeSantis lifted the state’s scooter restrictions, the City of Clearwater issued a six-month moratorium on electric scooter use on city streets until it could come up with a clear policy. Other cities such as San Francisco and Denver had limited or restricted their usage and speeds, and the City of Atlanta prohibited nighttime usage between the hours of 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. in the light of four scooter-related fatalities.
The Fort Pierce City Commission gave its initial assent to the rental program last June after a presentation by Zagster founder Timothy “Bradley” Ericson, who said the joint program with the Ford Mobility Company would provide Fort Pierce up to 400 rental scooters in addition to the 54 rental bikes already dispersed throughout the city.
Mr. Mimms told commissioners the initial wave of scooters could eventually grow as popularity increases and they would have to make a decision once the initial trial period ends.
“I think we have 150 now, and the game plan is 300,” he explained. “Now if things continue to go the way they’re going, I’m sure those 300 will appear relatively soon. The rollout has been so successful that I can definitely see that number increasing. Again, this is a pilot program, and it’s up to us to make the determination once this program ends if we want this in our community.”
Commissioner Johnson said it’s apparent the public is happy with the new service.
“My gosh, I smile looking at the smiling faces, because people are just riding around and they’re just happy, getting bugs in their teeth or whatever,” he said as his fellow Board members laughed. “They’re just happy, and that’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with that.”