The legislation, led by council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), establishes new regulations and reinforces some that are already in place for riders and operators and is expected to move through the council this fall.
The bill is a revised version of one introduced last year that established an unpopular overnight curfew for scooter use. That provision, which riders and operators opposed, is not in the revised legislation.
Cheh anticipates she will have enough votes for the legislation to pass this year and says it will establish a legal foundation for the operation of the services. She said the proposal balances the city’s desire for mobility innovation, sustainability and public safety.
For example, the provision requiring the devices have lock-to capability addresses complaints related to scooters left in the open and creating a hazard for pedestrians and people with disabilities.
“I don’t think these are outrageous requirements. But I think they’re important ones,” Cheh said. “And it’s for safety’s sake.”
It is that requirement, however, that could draw the most opposition. The industry has fought similar measures in other cities, though it has complied with the rule in Chicago, San Francisco and Denver.
Industry officials say the District lacks the parking infrastructure to accommodate a rise in bike use as a result of the pandemic as well as the demand from scooter users. They also say riders aren’t fond of lock-to requirements and rarely follow them.
“There’s no evidence to support that lock-to meaningfully improves parking compliance,” said Natalie Sawyer, a spokeswoman for Bird. She said lock-to implementation in Denver increased compliance by only 1 to 2 percent across operations and that it is reasonable to expect a similar result in D.C. given that scooter and bike parking infrastructure is insufficient.
According to the District Department of Transportation there are 5,000 bike racks across the city and 80 bike and scooter corrals.
Scooter companies have also voiced concern that the provision will hurt their bottom lines. Retrofitting scooters to add the lock-to capability could cost millions of dollars, some companies said. And the cost comes as scooter companies have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Major players such as Lime, Bird and Lyft have had layoffs in recent months and downsized operations across the United States.
Some companies said they will ask the council to delay consideration of the bill, given the pandemic conditions.
“Adding this lock-to mandate comes at a pretty inopportune time considering all the other factors going on,” Sawyer said.
Robert Gardner, Lime’s director of government relations for the Washington region, said the measure would only disincentivize scooter use.
“It doesn’t make any sense to burden the most popular alternative to driving that D.C. has seen in decades with regulation that discourages its use,” Gardner said.
Cheh said her bill is not a final draft and could change. If the proposal passes as is, the lock-to mechanism must be in place next fall.
DDOT, which regulates the services, has already established rules aimed at keeping the scooter companies in check, but Cheh said her legislation sets needed parameters and makes scooter use in the city safer.
The legislation would establish firm legal authority for DDOT to manage the city’s dockless program, which includes scooters, bicycles and e-bikes. It would allow DDOT to establish additional rules.
It would require DDOT to put up signage or pavement markings inside the Central Business District alerting scooter riders about the prohibition against riding on sidewalks within that district.
Last year, DDOT voiced concerns about the original version of the bill, saying that some of the provisions were overly prescriptive and could prove difficult to implement. The agency said it has continued to work with the council to improve the legislation.
Under the revised bill, companies would be required to deploy at least 3 percent of their fleets to each of the District’s eight wards, between 5 and 6 a.m. daily, and would be prohibited from putting scooters within 500 feet of an elementary, middle or high school. The rules would also apply to dockless e-bike operations.
The legislation also establishes fines for violators of the rules: Riders operating a rental scooter or e-bike while under the influence of alcohol or drugs could face a fine up to $150; anyone found tampering with the devices would face a $125 penalty.
Other provisions of the bill include:
● Requiring operators to maintain a 24-hour toll-free number for members of the public to report illegally parked scooters and file other complaints.
● Requiring operators to offer optional free classes on how to safely ride.
● Setting the e-bike speed limit at 20 miles per hour.
● Requiring operators to release fleet, trip and complaint data to DDOT.
Seven companies operate scooters in the District: Bird, Bolt, Lime, Lyft, Razor, Skip and Spin. Two operate e-bikes: Helbiz and Jump, which is under the Lime umbrella.
Some of the proposed rules mirror DDOT regulations that went into effect last year, when the agency launched a more permanent program for scooters and dockless bikes. The city then established fees for operators and maintained a cap on the number of devices each company is allowed to deploy.
The companies are permitted to have just under 7,000 scooters combined; permits allow about 4,000 e-bikes. Earlier this year, as the city dealt with the pandemic, DDOT paused plans to expand the scooter fleet.
Scooter advocates question the need for legislation, citing DDOT’s oversight as well as declines in the number of complaints about the devices when compared to the early days of their arrival, in late 2017 and early 2018. The scooters and dockless bikes caused myriad frustrations, including that the devices were left lying haphazardly, ridden where they shouldn’t be and were increasingly dangerous to pedestrians.
City transportation and industry leaders say complaints have gone down as the two-wheel devices have become more familiar in the transportation ecosystem.
It seems, Cheh said, that “we are developing a more responsible scooter culture.”
Still, she said, it’s important to have a safe structure for the services under the law.