Is Lakeland ready for rental electric scooters? With one exception, city commissioners don’t think we’re there yet, but they’re willing to listen to a young couple who would like to bring 45 scooters here as a pilot project.
Jed Irvine and Latisha Forsberg, a just-married couple who started a scooter company called Leaf last summer while students at University of Minnesota Duluth, approached the city with the idea of moving their business to Lakeland during the winter months.
Visiting here during their recent honeymoon, the couple thought Lakeland would be a “perfect fit,” and they’d like to see Florida Southern College participate as well, Irvine wrote in a letter to Julie Townsend, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority.
City commissioners discussed the proposal at the end of their agenda study session this morning. While a majority of commissioners are cool to jumping into a pilot program by this spring, they agreed to hear from the couple at the end of their 3 p.m. meeting on Monday.
The only commissioner who expressed enthusiasm for scooters was Stephanie Madden, who tested some during a trip to Austin, Texas, last June and exclaimed on Facebook at the time: “We need these in Lakeland!!!”
Comparing scooter rental and bike-share programs after today’s meeting, she said many women prefer scooters because they are easier to ride in skirts and you’re less likely to break a sweat.
Before Lakeland could allow scooter rentals, rules would need to be drawn up about where they could be ridden and parked, and liability issues would have to be researched, City Manager Tony Delgado said. He added he’s a skeptic, having seen people riding scooters among vehicle traffic in cities he’s visited.
In Duluth, the City Council set rules last April in advance of Leaf’s July launch, regulating where scooters can be ridden and requiring rental companies to carry insurance. Leaf asks riders to sign an agreement and “ride in bike lanes, bike paths or close to the right curb when a bike lane is not properly marked.”
In addition, GPS trackers can keep the scooters confined to approved parts of town, reports Duluth CBS affiliate KDLH.
Irvine explained in his letter how Leaf would differ from the scooter services that have caused complaints in nearby cities such as Tampa, which is undergoing a one-year test with three companies.
“We would be the local providers and operators, offering a personal touch, available to contact at all times and present to maintain, rebalance and monitor our units,” he wrote. “We are able to offer designated parking zones to keep units from being left in problematic areas, as well as blocking off areas deemed unfit for use by the city.”
Ratings on the Leaf apps are mostly positive, with scattered complaints about technical glitches, having to give up the scooters at 10 p.m. and some users parking haphazardly.
Today’s City Commission discussion about scooters:
While commissioners want to hear out the Leaf owners, Mayor Bill Mutz conceded, “The probability of us approving a scooter policy in 90 days is low.”
Sensing the mood of the other commissioners, Madden joked she gets to be the new 6-1 commissioner, a reference to departing Commissioner Justin Troller, who wore a shirt to the last agenda study session noting his place as the maverick on the losing end of a lot of 6-1 votes.
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At his next-to-last meeting as a city commissioner, Justin Troller today is wearing a shirt noting his penchant for being on the short end of 6-1 votes. Troller is leaving the commission after 12 years, having reached term limits. He has positioned himself as the voice for residents who are often unheard at City Hall. The shirt was given to him by the City Commission office staff. Troller’s final formal meeting will be Monday’s City Commission meeting. Chad McLeod, who was backed by leaders at some of the city’s largest businesses, was elected to the at-large seat Troller has held.