The new transportation product is touted as another option for commuters to make first- and last-mile trips in complement to traditional transit.
“Today, 40 percent of car trips are less than two miles long. Our goal is to replace as many of those trips as possible so we can get cars off the road and curb traffic and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Travis VanderZanden, founder and chief executive of Bird, which recently announced plans to bring scooters to 50 U.S. markets by the end of the year. The company is in several California markets and has raised $100 million to expand to cities outside the state, including the District.
Motorized scooters follow the entry of the dockless bike-share systems last year and continue the evolution of app-based shared services that began with Uber in the past decade. But the scooter systems have not been without controversy, having already raised concerns about people riding on sidewalks and without helmets.
Electric scooters arrived in the District last month, when California-based Waybots launched. LimeBike, which started dockless bike operations in the city last fall, is adding scooters to its fleet this week.
Scooter operations are being allowed in the city as part of the District’s exploration of new mobility services. In September, the city opened its doors to five dockless bike systems.
The scooter services are expected to operate under the same terms and conditions as the dockless bike companies. Companies can rent up to 400 scooters each, but they must agree to share usage data with the city, the District Department of Transportation said.
And just like with the dockless bikes, officials say, there are rules to using the free-standing scooters. A main complaint of the dockless bike programs has been bikes left parked in places where they are not allowed, such as monuments and where blocking private property and pedestrian access. Scooter users are urged to park in legal spots after completing a trip. If left on a sidewalk, for example, scooters shouldn’t block entrances and pedestrian pathways.
The scooters are allowed in bike lanes but prohibited on sidewalks downtown, per city law. Users are not required to wear a helmet in the District, but scooter companies encourage users to take precautions and avoid using headphones or carrying anything in their hands during a ride. The Lime scooters go nearly 15 mph and have a 37-mile maximum range.
The scooter operations underscore a continuing shift in the way Americans are making their trips and their willingness to try new, affordable ways to get around in major cites plagued by traffic congestion. Bird, which began operations in Santa Monica, Calif., in September, has recorded more than a half-million rides and continues to see ridership rise, the company said.
In cities where residents are still coping with the arrival of thousands of rental free-standing bicycles, the scooter services add another layer of complexity to city grids — and one that is likely to ignite conflict among road users as concerns about safety rise and many cities struggle to come up with a regulatory framework for the services.
In San Diego’s Pacific Beach, there have been reports of tension among users and the public, with elderly residents complaining about scooters left along driveways and sidewalks. In Santa Monica, police have been cracking down on riders illegally using them on busy sidewalks.
LimeBike, which launched scooters in San Diego last month, is adding about 50 scooters to its D.C. fleet this week.
Jason Starr, who oversees LimeBike in the District, said the San Diego operations have been strong in part because of the scooter fleet there; the company expects demand to rise in the District as people become familiar with the system. He said the bikes have been used 63,000 times since operations began in September.
LimeBike users will be able to use the same app to spot, unlock and use a scooter.
“With the launch of Lime-S, we are expanding the range of affordable, space-efficient and environmentally friendly mobility options available to D.C. residents of all eight wards,” Starr said.
LimeBike also announced it has partnered with Georgetown University to launch a bike system on campus.