The District Department of Transportation is extending through December the pilot program that allows the operation of dockless bikes and electric scooters. But moving forward, the companies that operate the services will be required to provide a method for users to lock the bikes to racks or poles.
The city plans to take the next few months to transition to a more permanent program. DDOT is slated to unveil new regulations next month that will establish operation fees and reassess the existing cap on fleets. The department will also more clearly define rules for bike and scooter parking. The policies will aim to balance the city’s desire for mobility innovation, sustainability goals and public safety.
“We think that there’s a viable program to be had,” said Sam Zimbabwe, chief project delivery officer for DDOT. “But we think there needs to be a regulatory framework.”
The new regulations should be available for public comment next month and finalized this fall for implementation starting Jan. 1, Zimbabwe said. The rules won’t need to be reviewed or approved by the D.C. Council.
The dockless systems, which arrived in the District last September, have become a popular option for getting around. Many commuters have turned to them out of frustration with the region’s troubled public transit system, picking up on the growing trend of using the app-based services for short-distance trips.
When the program began last fall, five companies offered dockless bikes and promised to expand bike-sharing and bike commuting. But by spring the program had shifted to mostly electric scooters. Dockless bike operators Mobike and Ofo left the pilot this summer, citing frustration with city's restrictions on fleet size. But they left as scootermania was quickly taking off. Soon scooters became more popular, and profitable, than the dockless bikes. Now most companies operating dockless systems in the city are scooter providers. That includes Bird, Skip, Lime and Spin. The exception is Jump, the Uber-owned company that rents electric bikes.
From the day the systems launched in September, through June of this year, users took more than 625,000 rides on the bikes and scooters, according to DDOT. In May alone, more than 55,000 users took over 140,000 trips, the agency said.
Each company will continue to be subject to a cap of 400 bikes, scooters or a combination of the two. That restriction may change with the new regulations. Any company operating bikes will be required to have a mechanism for them to be locked to a rack or post. City officials say the requirement is a direct response to complaints from residents and visitors who have encountered bikes blocking pedestrian access. JUMP bikes already have a locking system.
DDOT officials said they continue to work with the operators to urge more education about proper bike and scooter parking. The city has added racks to accommodate more than 200 bikes and is on track to add an additional 300 racks this fall, officials said.
Moving forward, the city is considering fines on operators to ensure they have incentives in place to encourage users to follow the rules and reduce poor dockless behaviors. The city also wants companies to employ methods to ensure people of all backgrounds can access their services, including those who don’t have credit cards.
When asked why it’s taking so long to implement permanent dockless regulations, Zimbabwe said more time was needed to evaluate the program, especially because the arrival of the scooters in February significantly changed the outlook of the dockless services. So far, he said, the services have increased access to personal mobility trips and possibly brought in new users that perhaps weren't using bikes.
He said new operation fees would be in line with what other cities have imposed. Earlier this year the District abandoned an unpopular plan to impose a $200-per-bike fee on operators. Seattle this summer approved regulations that allow up to 20,000 bikes — up to 5,000 bikes each to four companies, but with a $250,000 annual fee.
Companies that are participating in the program will have to reapply for a permit later this year, Seattle officials said.
The public can send comments about the District's program to firstname.lastname@example.org.