City officials have had preliminary conversations with Bird, an e-scooter company — a potential precursor to an ordinance allowing the transportation devices.
Over the past year, electric scooters have popped up on the sidewalks of cities across the country, with companies touting the devices as an emerging alternative for people interested in getting around without a car.
Now, in the new year, the scooters may begin to appear in Sarasota.
On Saturday, City Manager Tom Barwin announced city staff has engaged in conversations with Bird, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based e-scooter company. In a column in SRQ Daily, Barwin encouraged the public to email him with any thoughts they had about permitting e-scooters in the city.
Barwin said Florida law prohibits the operation of e-scooters on sidewalks or roadways, but cities have the authority to establish regulations permitting the use of the devices in some areas. In an interview, Barwin said city staff has received interest from several e-scooter companies in the past few weeks, not just Bird.
He called the meeting with Bird representatives productive and said city staff was working on producing a recommendation on whether to allow the scooters, and under what conditions. He expected the analysis could be done by next month and the City Commission could discuss the topic in early 2019.
Barwin said Bird was primarily interested in operating in high-density areas, such as downtown or college campuses. Barwin said allowing e-scooters could fit into the city’s efforts to create a more robust multimodal transportation network, which has included a now-abandoned partnership with a private operator on a downtown circulator service.
Bird calls the scooters a complement to existing forms of transportation, an option for the first or last mile of a larger trip.
“This would seem to be a next logical step in terms of trying to understand the future of transit and transportation, especially with so much public commentary about traffic and transportation and parking challenges,” Barwin said.
During the meeting with Bird, city staff discussed one frequently cited issue with e-scooters: storage. Bird allows users to access an e-scooter through an app, allowing individuals to park the vehicles near wherever their trip happens to end. Throughout the country, there have been complaints about e-scooters left on sidewalks without storage infrastructure in place.
Barwin said Bird is working on strategies to address those concerns, making efforts to cluster the e-scooters when possible.
As city staff continues to examine the potential regulations that could accompany the introduction of e-scooters into Sarasota, Barwin said the early feedback he’s heard has supported the concept.
“Most of the input has been positive,” Barwin said.