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More People Are Riding Electric Scooters Amid Social Distancing Concerns

A lime slice is displayed above the wheel of an electric scooter. The wheels of two other scooters are in the background.
Robbie Gaffney
/
WFSU-FM
Scooter-sharing companies like Lime are seeing riders use its vehicles for more essential activities.

More people are using rentable electric scooters for essential activities according to data from scooter-sharing companies like Lime and Spin. The two-wheeled vehicles offer Floridians a way to stay physically distant from others amid a deadly pandemic.

When Florida cities first allowed electric scooters on the streets, not everyone was happy. Residents complained about the unsightly tripping hazards sometimes left tipped over in the middle of sidewalks. But, Uhriel Bedoya, Florida General Manager for Lime, said the public's perception of electric scooters is starting to change. The company is currently operating rentable scooters in Orlando and Tampa.

"Getting on mass transit is something that people have to think about, getting into rideshare is something that people have to think about, and the alternative is looking at scooters, Bedoya said.

The vehicles are intended for solo-use, meaning only one person should ride them at a time, and people use them outside. Bedoya said scooters allow for social distancing while other forms of transportation may not.

Lime pulled its scooters from Florida roads starting in March and then started reintroducing them in June. Bedoya said in the last few weeks, his company is beginning to see riders take scooters to more essential locations—like grocery stores and pharmacies.

"A lot of people look at these vehicles as fun toys, but [the] reality is people are using them more for their daily commute, so they are really rethinking their ride. It's not just about getting from point A to point B. It's about getting from Point A to Point B to do the essential things that people need to do," Bedoya said.

Nabil Syid is South Regional General Manager for Spin. As the pandemic began ramping up and governors were issuing stay-at-home orders, Sayid said there was a dip in demand for rentable scooters. But immediately afterward, he said, there was a shift in how riders began using the vehicles.

"Duration of trips has actually increased in a very material way, and it increased pretty immediately as COVID concerns ramped up. Additionally, we saw a remarkable shift in trip patterns toward more essential use cases," Syid said.

His company is seeing a promising trend—people are continuing to take long trips. Sayid said once people realize they can ride scooters to places like grocery stores, it causes a ripple effect throughout the community.

"People became aware of this service and how it can serve that need, especially if you're trying to maintain social distance," Sayid said.

However, some cities like Miami have paused their electric scooter programs because of coronavirus-related health concerns. It's what caused Tampa to pull rentable scooters off city streets.

"So we had a concern that scooters might encourage the gathering of larger groups of people," said Brandon Campbell, Tampa's Smart Mobility Manager.

Campbell said the city decided to resume the program in late July after officials saw what was happening in other communities, like Baltimore, where he said a higher percentage of riders began using scooters for essential trips like going to the grocery store or the hospital.

"We were hoping to see a similar kind of increase for us," Campbell said.

But it's too early for city officials to discern what the trends are for riders in Tampa. Meanwhile, Bedoya hopes people will continue seeing electric scooters as an alternative way to get around town.

"There's always that concept of getting back to normal that people have really been espousing towards, my perception is a little bit different. I think that what this pandemic is calling for is not returning back to anything but rather readjusting and moving forward," Bedoya said.

For now, he hopes cities that have paused their programs will consider relaunching them.