DIB not enjoying the Scooter ride

by Jeremy Morrison

It appears that the downtown Pensacola business community doesn’t much care for scooters. Or at least they don’t like the current state of scooters in the city.

“I like the idea of scooters,” said Michael Carro, chairman of the Pensacola Downtown Improvement Board. “I hate the blight, and I hate the immaturity.”

Carro’s assessment was more or less in line with the scathing survey results the DIB board had just been provided with during its early morning Dec. 14 meeting. Collected from downtown business owners, the feedback on the scooters was variously described as “predominately negative,” “very, very, very against scooters,” and “negative even on the positive ones.”

“Somebody wrote,” the board was informed, “that while they were taking the survey, they saw somebody drive into a parked car outside their window.”

According to DIB Executive Director Walker Wilson, the organization decided to survey its members because he had noticed an uptick in complaints about the electric scooters that have become a presence in the city over the past half-year.

“We figured the best thing to do was to send a survey out to downtown business owners,” Wilson said ahead of Tuesday’s meetings.

Presently, the city of Pensacola is six months into a one-year trial period. It has contracted with two electric scooter companies to service a limited area of the city, including downtown. Complaints concerning the scooters center on safety and blight issues.

The DIB survey included questions like ‘What is the most positive impact of having a scooter program …” and “What is the most negative impact of having a scooter program ….” The replies to the survey questions — from a total of 39 respondents — were notably weighted toward the negative: “dangerous” … “no positives, they are used as toys” … “idiots on them.” Some comments could be seen as positive, but barely: “haven’t tried one but they seem fun” … “lawyers can get to court quicker.”

Wilson explained that the purposed of the DIB survey was so that the organization could provide city officials with a snapshot of downtown sentiment. David Forte, the deputy city administrator, was present at the DIB meeting, so it was easy enough for board members to go ahead and jumpstart that conversation.

“I’m sure there are modifications in the works,” Carro said to Forte. “What are your thoughts?”

Forte informed the board that, in fact, there are some possible changes afoot, including restricting the use of scooters during late night and early morning hours and possibly reducing the current top speed of 15 mph.

“Hopefully, with these proposed changes, we’ll see less complaints,” Forte told the DIB board.

But there are other aspects of the city’s current arrangement with two different scooter companies — Bird and Veo — that downtown business owners may have to endure at least another six months. Chiefly, the city is locked into how many scooters the companies may have in the city, with each company allowed 250 scooters. Currently, only Bird operates in the city, while Veo — which offers a sit-down variety scooter — plans to get started sometime after the New Year.

Forte said he expects a slate of recommended changes to the city’s scooter ordinance to make its way before the Pensacola City Council in mid-January. He suggested that the tweaks could lead to a drop in complaints from downtown businesses regarding the scooters.

“I look forward to the March timeframe, after two or three months of the modified ordinance and seeing where we’re at,” Forte said.

— For more on scooters in Pensacola, check out the next issue of Inweekly.