Skip is returning its electric scooters to the streets of the District, Arlington and Alexandria this month, ending a six-week suspension of service following two fires involving its equipment.
Company officials say they have revamped safety procedures to minimize the likelihood of fires involving damaged batteries, beefed up monitoring and inspections of equipment, and improved employee training.
The company acknowledged that past safety lapses contributed to the two fires: one in late May involving a scooter that burst into flames in downtown D.C., and another two weeks later in a bin of batteries at the company’s D.C. warehouse.
“We want a flawless safety track record, but we’ve made some mistakes in the past,” the company said in a blog post published Friday. “We didn’t just let our cities and riders down, we let ourselves down.”
Skip co-founder and chief executive Sanjay Dastoor said a company investigation found issues with some faulty batteries after the May fire. That led to an inspection of all the equipment and the replacement of some batteries that had sustained damage. But improper disposal of those batteries led to the second fire. The District Department of Transportation suspended Skip’s operations permit on June 19 after those two fires and revelations of two previously undisclosed fires last year.
Dastoor said the company determined that the fires resulted from damage — intentional or unintentional — to the battery packs.
“We have taken some very important steps to minimize the likelihood that that would happen again,” Dastoor said. “It’s impossible to prevent these things completely and this is true for everything from gasoline cars to electric cars. It doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be around, but we need the right set of safety standards around them.”
He said the company has enhanced operations and audit procedures for handling and disposing of damaged or vandalized equipment. It is increasing monitoring and diagnostics of its scooters and requiring additional safety training for all its warehouse employees. Any damaged batteries, Dastoor said, will be properly disposed of before they show noticeable damage.
After the May 30 incident — where a scooter caught fire near 14th and I streets NW in front of a Compass Coffee shop — Skip said the scooters were outfitted with additional safety features, including tamper-resistant battery cages to help prevent a repeat incident. Experts say the extra protection could be helpful because dents and shocks, which can happen because of frequent drops or extreme temperatures, can contribute to the batteries overheating.
DDOT director Jeff Marootian said Skip has demonstrated it is taking “clear steps” to ensure it is following best safety practices for the batteries.
“After reviewing the revised procedures and finding there will be increased oversight to operation practices, DDOT believes that Skip will be able to operate safely in public space,” Marootian said in a statement.
The company is expected to provide more frequent reports to DDOT, which regulates the industry’s operations in the city, to include data on tampering, vandalism, damage, fires and electrical issues.
Skip’s permit allows it to deploy as many as 720 scooters in the city, but it’s unclear how many the company has in service. The company started the year with a permit that allowed 600, but it was granted an expansion of 120 in April.
Although only the District suspended Skip’s permit to operate, the company also removed its scooters from Arlington and Alexandria, where it operates under separate permits.
Skip is one of six companies operating e-scooters in the District.