Love it or hate it, more electric scooters are on the way to the nation’s capital.
San Francisco-based start-up Spin, one of several companies that arrived in the District as part of the dockless bike-share hype last September, says it’s removing its bright orange bikes from city sidewalks and replacing them with scooters, an attempt to catch up with competitors who have found the scooter to be a more lucrative option than the bike.
“When given the option, demand for scooters is 10 times more than for bikes,” said Brian No, Spin’s head of public policy. “We need to focus on what the consumers really want.”
Most companies that are now operating a dockless personal transportation system in the city offer scooters as their primary product — a major shift from a year ago when they arrived in the city with bike fleets promising to expand bike-sharing and bike commuting. The exception is Jump, the Uber-owned company that runs electric bikes.
Also operating in the city are scooter providers Bird, Skip and Lime. Lime also began its business with regular bikes, but has in the past year transitioned to renting scooters and electric bikes. It offers more scooters than bikes in the city.
The dockless systems have become a popular option to get around for millennials, tourists and many commuters frustrated by the region’s troubled public transit system. Users have embraced them as an alternative to buses or the rail system for short trips and for getting around traffic-choked downtown. Tourists hop on them to get to monuments and attractions. The motorized scooters arrived in February, renting for as little as $1 plus 15 cents per minute. The dockless bikes rent for as little as $1 per 30-minute ride.
But the personal travel devices have added a level of complexity to Washington’s grid. Roads have become more perilous to navigate as people on scooters travel on general lanes and bike lanes, joining scores of bike commuters in a city dominated by cars. Pedestrians are adjusting to navigating through scooters and bikes parked along busy segments of downtown. If the city is to continue the program, critics and even users say, more enforcement of the use of right of way will be needed.
The city is expected to decide soon whether it will expand the program, which has remained a pilot since its inception in September. The testing period is expected to end on Aug. 31. District transportation officials have said they are evaluating the program. Two companies — Ofo and Mobike — left the pilot this summer after disagreements with the city over a fleet cap.
At stake is how much the city will regulate the industry; what fees, if any, the companies will be required to pay; and whether a cap on fleets will remain. Currently, companies are allowed to have a maximum of 400 bikes or scooters or a combination of both. They are mandated to have their products available in all eight wards, a requirement that the companies have barely met, as their fleets are mostly available in Northwest Washington.
No said this week that Spin scooters are likely to arrive in the District this fall. The company is awaiting more details from the city about what comes after the conclusion of the pilot, he said.
“We are evaluating when to bring and operate scooters in D.C.,” he said.
In an interview last month, No said that the company supports "common-sense regulation.”
“It would be naive for us to think that this is something that can go unregulated.” he said.
Most of Spin’s bikes were being deployed near the World Bank complex in Northwest Washington. But the bikes had been almost nonexistent in the city for months as the company prepared to re-brand itself as a scooter provider. The company this summer has been pulling out of some cities where scooters are not allowed and transitioning to scooters-only service in other U.S. markets. The company said in an email that transition has begun in the District.
“We’re proud to be providing innovative mobility solutions in the District, and we’ll be back soon with scooters!” the company said. Anyone who purchased a Spin bike pass will be refunded, the company said.
This story has been updated.