Miami Beach Outlaws Electric Scooters in Crackdown on Latest Tourist Craze

Miami Beach Outlaws Electric Scooters in Crackdown on Latest Tourist Craze

Update: After this story was published, the city backed off of some of its proposals after complaints from scooter-rental companies, according to the Miami Herald.

Rentable electric scooters have seemingly popped up in major cities and tourist destinations overnight. According to various news reports, the scooters are "ruining" Venice Beach, causing "controversy" in Nashville, and "terrorizing" San Francisco. Some of the rental companies, such as Lime, Spin, and Bird (those are real tech-company names), have received major funding from venture-capital firms, which helps explain how the little transportation devices seem to have proliferated across planet Earth in a matter of days.

Well, Miami Beach — which is saturated with all kinds of rental bikes besides motor scooters — is now cracking down on a scooter craze of its own. According to a memo City Manager Jimmy Morales sent the commission yesterday, the city has decided the two-wheeled rides must go.

"Many of these devices are routinely rented and ridden throughout the City and South Beach in particular," Morales wrote. "Members of the commission are well familiar with the complaints we have all received about the manner in which these devices are operated. They have become a public safety hazard."

Morales attached three visual examples: One included a standard-looking motorized, Razor-style scooter, and another was simply the same sort of stand-up scooter but with big, off-road-style wheels. A third image depicted a newfangled-looking, fold-up, A-frame scooter that riders sit on instead of standing. (Anyone who's been to South Beach in 2018 has probably seen one.)

All three kinds of scooters, Morales says, are now banned, and Miami Beach Police will begin ticketing people caught riding them. (The ban doesn't extend to old-school motor-scooters, such as Vespas.) Because many of these scooters are rented from local shops, Morales said the city is sending out memos warning owners to take them off the market. A city spokesperson said she wasn't certain whether the crackdown is related to the national scooter craze, but the city last July labeled LimeBike an illegal, "rogue bike-sharing service."

One of those brick-and-mortar shop owners, Jerry Szylwanski, of the rental company Whizzy Ride on Ninth Street, tells New Times he hopes the city finds a way to regulate the scooters rather than banning them outright. He says the scooters he offers are electric and, therefore, a type of green technology.

"In the 18 months we've been doing this, we have not had one reported accident," Szylwanski says. "We do our best to educate riders before they go. But in Miami Beach, you have a lot of tourists who go to bars or clubs, drink, and then ride some kind of car or scooter. Is the next step to close bars and liquor stores? No! If some customers are drinking and then on scooters, they just shouldn't be riding. Banning them in the city is not the best idea. It's kind of a lazy solution."

Elsewhere, the scooter explosion has pissed off liberal-leaning cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, which are otherwise known to encourage green transportation. According to articles in the Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and tech blogs, riders have been parking the scooters on public walkways, barreling into people, running over toes, and, in some cases, allegedly operating without permits.

But this is also Miami Beach, a city some critics say has been obsessed lately with cracking down on all things "fun." The city government has repeatedly threatened to roll back last call for liquor, debated ending Urban Beach Week, and, just last summer, announced it plans to crack down on cars playing loud music. (The NAACP has asked the city to rethink that last idea.) Morales noted in his new memo that the city in 2015 moved to make motorized "trikes" illegal too.

WSVN TV news yesterday questioned whether the ban was targeted toward partygoers during the upcoming Urban Beach Weekend — the new ban's timing does beg that question. However, the ban also seems to be permanent.

In his letter, Morales attached a copy of the letters being sent to scooter vendors. The city manager noted that any motorized devices must display a license plate, and because motor scooters such as these aren't eligible for plates, they're illegal.

"The motorized devices will be impounded," he warned.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.