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TPA tests new self-driving wheelchairs

The motorized wheelchairs, similar to the ones you’d see in a supermarket, are free for passengers including those with mobility issues and injuries.

TAMPA, Fla. — There may be a new, self-serve motorized wheelchair service coming to Tampa International Airport.

Right now, it’s still being tested out, but the airport says feedback from those giving it a whirl has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I think it’s great,” said Thomas Hicks, who recently busted his leg.

Hicks wasn’t about to have an airline worker push him and his crutches through the airport, so instead he’s giving "Whill" (pronounced wheel) a whirl.

“I’d rather be independent,” said Hicks. “I’d rather take care of stuff myself and have somebody pushing me around.”

The motorized wheelchairs, similar to the ones you’d see in a supermarket, are free for passengers including those with mobility issues, injuries or anyone who’d prefer to roll on their own.

Users just share their name and flight info and then, off they go. Using the motorized wheelchairs as long as they need to until they get on their flight.

An attendant stops by the gate to pick it up later.

“Stop along the way, grab some food, go to a restaurant, use the restroom, and really have the flexibility in their control and independence for our passengers,” said TPA Spokesperson Ashley Iaccarino.

“Yep. They just bring it right back here to the station and we charge it up for the next person. Charging and sanitizing and cleaning make sure it’s all wiped down and sanitized and charge it up for the next person,” said Earl Price, who works with Scoot Around, the company behind the Whill service.

During the pilot program, "Whill" has had 15 of the motorized wheelchairs available at Tampa International. But the company says it’s prepared to offer even more if the service gets picked up.

By law, airlines are obligated to provide wheelchair service and with that, a small army of so-called "pushers."

A contract with "Whill" could help reduce those labor costs if more people like 79-year-old Curtis Bostrom decide they’d rather do it alone.

“I’m independent. Like to do it myself,” said Bostrom.

The "Whill" pilot program runs through this Friday at Tampa International.

After that, the airport says it will be up to the company and the airlines to decide whether to make it a more permanent arrangement.

“This is absolutely a service that people have loved so far. Everybody has used it,” said Iaccarino. “So, we really really hope it can come back and stay.”