Scooters prove popular on International Drive, but not with tourist corridor’s business leaders

·5 min read

Orange County commissioners can’t decide if zippy, motorized rental scooters are a good fit for the county, especially on International Drive, where some business leaders oppose them.

“In the best of all worlds, and if we were making a decision today, I-Drive would be off-limits” to the electric vehicles, known as micro-mobility devices, said Luann Brooks, executive director of International Drive Business Improvement District. “We’ve seen pedestrians have to dart out of the way because the scooters are moving so fast ...”

Micro-mobility devices have been used more than a million times by riders in Orlando and the city made its 18-month pilot program permanent this summer, but county commissioners haven’t yet committed to a trial period in Orange County’s much larger unincorporated areas.

The idea has been in front of commissioners at least six times over three years, including Tuesday, when transportation planner Alissa Barber Torres and traffic engineer Humberto Castillero answered safety and funding questions with information gathered from programs in other places.

Advocates say electric scooters and motorized bicycles provide convenient, low-cost “last-mile” transportation solutions.

Critics say they pose hazards to pedestrians and tend to clutter sidewalks and business entrances where some riders abandon the vehicles.

Some scooters require a rider to stand on a platform like a kick-scooter and use a throttle to accelerate up to 10 mph while others have a seat and can travel 20 mph on the street. Riders pay a fee on an app to unlock the vehicle and are charged an additional fee based on how long or how far they travel.

In March 2020 — before COVID-19 quieted the tourism corridor’s hustle and bustle — commissioners voted to impose a moratorium on the use of micro-mobility devices while staff studied pros and cons, but the board rescinded the ban a few months later after Newt Mobility filed a notice to sue.

In its warning letter, the company argued the state Legislature had pre-empted a ban, which the moratorium put in place.

Without a county ordinance regulating micro-mobility devices, a 2019 state law treats motorized bicycles and scooters like pedal-powered bikes, which makes them legal to ride in Orange County, including on I-Drive sidewalks, Newt CEO Alec Dian said. The company started renting scooters on I-Drive in 2019.

Deputy County Attorney Joel Prinsell said in an email that state law allows the county to prohibit micro-mobility devices on sidewalks and “heavily traveled streets by any class or kind of traffic found to be incompatible with the normal and safe movement of traffic.” He also noted the devices — like bicycles — are “subject to yielding the right-of-way to any pedestrian.”

Since Orlando’s test program launched in Jan. 2020, riders of micro-mobility devices have traveled more than 1.1 million miles around the city.

Riders have had their choice of vehicles as the city’s vendors include Lime, Bird, Wheels, Spin, Razor and Lynx City.

Newt does not operate in Orlando, which charges companies an application fee of $5,000 and gets a 25-cent cut from each ride.

Dian declined to give ridership figures or reveal the size of Newt’s fleet but said its scooters have proven popular on I-Drive.

“People like I-Drive [and] have a blast, riding scooters around and going to the different attractions,” he said.

He said Newt devices are not intended to be ridden on the street.

Dian said some convention organizers have asked Newt to set out extra scooters for attendees to hop a ride to an event, dinner or attraction.

“This is kind of what we do, you know, that’s the purpose that we serve here,” he said.

But safety remains a worry with the International Drive Resort Area Chamber of Commerce, its CEO/President Maria Triscari said.

“The I-Drive resort area has a large volume of walking traffic. We have found that the mix of pedestrians walking on our sidewalks and motorized scooters passing, many times at high rates of speed, has become a safety concern,” she said in an email. “Many of our stakeholders have witnessed numerous incidents with scooters and pedestrians and [they] do not believe it is a good fit in our pedestrian-friendly environment.”

Torres, the transportation planner studying micro-mobility devices, said local medical data is limited but Orlando’s two largest health care systems, Orlando Health and AdventHealth, each treated a dozen patients for scooter-related injuries in 2020. She said AdventHealth reported 12 more so far this year.

She said Orlando police report frequent complaints of “trick riding,” especially around downtown parking garages.

Torres said the University of Central Florida’s program, which re-started in the spring, has reported three injuries among 100,000 rides.

Newt has documented two scooter-related injuries in two years of operating on I-Drive, its CEO said.

County staff recommended an 18-month pilot program that would permit three companies with up to 600 scooters each.

But Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said 1,800 scooters were far too many. Commissioner Victoria Siplin, whose district includes I-Drive and Pine Hills, said she has three pages of notes and plenty of questions about a program that very likely would put the devices in the communities she serves.

Jon Weiss, head of county planning, environmental and development services, said the next step is to meet individually with commissioners to gather concerns about motorized scooters and other micro-mobility devices, re-work the plan and hold a public hearing next year on a pilot program.

Back on I-Drive, some business leaders seem resigned that scooters aren’t going to skedaddle.

“I think they’re here to stay,” said Brooks of the I-Drive Business Improvement District. “It’s just a matter of how do we work with them ...”

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