Advocates Say Miamians Without Cars Need Scooter and Bike Rentals

Scooter rentals have been banned in Miami-Dade County since mid-March.
Scooter rentals have been banned in Miami-Dade County since mid-March. Photo by Elvert Barnes / Flickr
The COVID-19 lockdown has meant the loss of many things Miamians are used to seeing every day: open restaurants filled with diners, boutiques and shops catering to customers, and rental bikes and scooters posted up on every street corner. While Miami-Dade's county government is hoping to bring back the first two, city officials in Miami and Miami Beach are lobbying for the return of bike and scooter sharing.

In mid-March, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued an emergency order temporarily banning micromobility companies such as Spin, Bird, and Citi Bike from operating in the county. The order stated that because shared scooters and bikes are not routinely cleaned, they could be vectors for spreading the novel coronavirus.

Nevertheless, some local officials, including Miami Beach City Commissioner Ricky Arriola, believe rentable bikes and scooters are essential to residents during the pandemic and should be brought back. Today, the commissioner is bringing forth a resolution calling for the return of Citi Bike.

"People in Miami Beach rely on Citi Bike and similar modes of transportation," Arriola says. "This particular item is a lot more about giving residents a different means of transportation since we've eliminated trolley services."

Arriola tells New Times the resolution specifically names Citi Bike because the company, which has a contract with Miami Beach, reached out to him personally. But he says he would be open to bringing back other micromobility services as well. If commissioners pass the resolution, Arriola says they will send it to Gimenez to try to persuade him to resume bike and scooter services as soon as possible.

Outside of Miami Beach, City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell also is working to bring back scooters and bikes to the streets. Russell tells New Times he is in talks with several scooter companies to plan out the best way to roll out their programs when the county allows them back. Russell is a longtime advocate for motorized scooter rentals in Miami.

"It's a shame that micromobility was closed down. I understand the mayor's concern about health and the ability to clean between uses," Russell says. "It's in the hands of the county — they set the floor for us. We can't be less stringent than they are."

Micromobility programs are still banned, according to the county's Emergency Operations Center, and there has been no word from Gimenez about bringing them back when businesses begin to open on May 18. Meanwhile, scooter companies are finding success in other cities, where they are helping essential workers.

Spin has kept its fleet of electric scooters operational in cities including Detroit, Baltimore, and San Francisco, according to Spin's government partnerships manager, Vivian Myrtetus.

Myrtetus says Spin was designated as an essential business in those cities from the get-go. In Detroit, scooters have been in demand because bus services were reduced significantly.

"We've been helpful to folks to have an alternative means of travel. A lot of people don't want to get on a bus right now," she says.

The scooter company has also rolled out a program to offer healthcare workers free rides and helmets. Myrtetus says Spin has seen an uptick in people using the scooters to get to pharmacies, grocery stores, and other essential places.

Bolt Mobility, an electric scooter company based in Miami, typically operates in nine cities in the U.S. and Europe but has been hamstrung by local bans during the pandemic. Will Nicholas, executive vice president of operations, says Bolt is still operating in Richmond, Virginia, where it has served an essential role.

"We offer our scooters to healthcare workers — they gain free and unlimited access to their scooters," he says. "We're also partnering with local restaurants to give them a subsidized rate to deliver meals and essential goods. It's a great way to repurpose an employee and equip them with a scooter so [restaurants] can avoid fees from delivery platforms."

Both Spin and Bolt say they've ramped up their cleaning protocols and have deployed their employees to clean the scooters as often as possible after each use. They also encourage their users to take proper precautions by wearing gloves and bringing hand sanitizer, even if the scooters have been cleaned by staff.

Mobility advocates are hoping motions like Arriola's will move forward so residents can go back to using scooters and bikes. Marcia Duprat, campaign manager for the mobility nonprofit Transit Alliance, says the county's ban has alienated people without cars.

"Miami-Dade County needs to start implementing policies that do not hurt those that do not have a vehicle," she says. "Rather than burn the few options people have, they need to open up alternative ways to get around safely with this virus."

Duprat says the decision to ban scooter- and bike-sharing services in the first place was "very problematic" since many people hesitate to use public transit and ridesharing services, which require coming into close contact with others.

"Our local government has been implementing policies that are very one-sided," she says. "If you don't own a car, it's been difficult to move around."
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Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos