STILL GETTING used to the electric scooters zooming around D.C. streets? Better gear up. The mopeds are coming.
Four hundred rentable, electric, seated two-wheelers, courtesy of a company called Revel, are scheduled to pull in to the District this weekend to join the 5,600 shared e-scooters and bikes already rolling along our roads (and occasionally sidewalks). This influx is raising concerns about nuisance and safety. The city was not built for these strange breeds, some say, and old-time drivers aren’t trained to handle the new technologies. Then again, that’s what people riding in horse-drawn carriages said when cars began to appear.
The District is right to experiment. Plenty of people in the city, and especially those in lower-income areas, have limited access to grocery stores and other necessities, and to public transit. Revel is offering 40 percent discounts to anyone who qualifies for federal assistance. The District also has ambitious emissions goals that combustion engines put in jeopardy. And then there’s traffic to think of. The devices the District has been allowing in lately run on batteries (or human muscle). They’re an appealing alternative to ride-hailing short distances, and Revel can help out with longer hauls, too: An average trip in Brooklyn and Queens, where the company currently operates, is more than 3.1 miles.
Mopeds are bigger than the bikes and scooters that came before them, and at a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour, they’re faster, too. But these features may be boons rather than bugs. Mopeds are required to ride in the road and park in the road, too, so tripping on your walk to work needn’t be a worry. As for the helmet problem that has plagued scooterers and emergency rooms? Proper headgear is mandatory on moped outings, and Revel provides them — along with disposable liners intended to guard against lice and other pests. Scooter providers should take a tip, perhaps adding lock-on helmets to their product to ensure riders do what in their case is recommended but not required.
Moped riders will have the option of enrolling in a driving course, and Revel will check their licenses for DUIs and other red flags before granting them privileges.
Safety is still a concern, of course. It always will be when a city tries something different. Skeptics are right that these streets were built for cars, but achieving a sustainable urban future will require rethinking how we get around. That will mean adjusting in a host of ways, including building more protected bike lanes and considering congestion pricing. It will also mean welcoming scooters, mopeds and more to the streets, safely and smartly but ambitiously, too. Most of us are probably glad not to be cantering to and from the office, after all.