Under the new guidelines, the companies will be able to apply to expand their fleets — up to doubling them — on a semiannual basis. DDOT says it will grant expansions after evaluating a company’s performance. For example, a company that starts with 2,500 scooters in January could potentially have 5,000 in service by midyear, and if all four companies were to be approved for the maximum expansion there could be 20,000 scooters by summer.
The new guidelines would bring exponential growth to the program that now permits eight companies to operate 5,235 scooters combined. Additionally, one company, Jump, has nearly 1,000 e-bikes in service.
City and some industry officials say the DDOT plan for 2020 responds to high demand from the public for wider availability of scooters and a more manageable program where users don’t have to download a plethora of apps to find their next ride. The proposed rules are up for public comment until the end of the month.
By keeping the number of operators to four, officials say the city would be able to provide better oversight and respond more expeditiously to public complaints about issues such as badly parked scooters.
“We have listened closely to the public on this,” DDOT Director Jeff Marootian said. “We have heard from users of bikes and scooters who want to see more of them, and we have also heard from members of the community who support the program and want to see it managed in a way that has less scooters placed in public rights of way.”
Along with the new guidelines, the District is creating curbside parking for scooters and bikes at locations where their use is high, Marootian said. Plans are to have designated parking at 15 locations this fall.
The prospect of having thousands more scooters and bikes deployed in Washington also responds to companies that have been lobbying the city to raise the existing cap on fleets as the devices have become more popular. Companies started the year with maximum fleets of 600 scooters or bikes and were allowed to request fleet increases up to 25 percent every quarter — after a DDOT evaluation. Only some of the companies have been granted a minimal expansion.
Companies operating scooter programs in the District are: Bird (600), Bolt (600), Jump (600), Lime (675), Lyft (720), Razor (600), Skip (720) and Spin (720). Jump also operates 975 e-bikes. Two other companies, Hopr and Ridecell, recently received conditional permits.
Companies that want to continue to operate in the D.C. market will need to reapply for a city permit. It is unclear how the District will decide the four to remain. DDOT officials said they will unveil criteria later this year.
Some industry leaders say the new rules show the program’s maturity and will take the city in the right direction.
“Ultimately, it’s important the city’s final rules respond to D. C residents’ quick adoption of scooters as part of the city’s transportation ecosystem,” said Robert Gardner, Lime’s director of government relations for the Washington region. “They should allow for an ample supply of scooters for those who depend on them, while also aligning equity and sustainability goals through incentives for operators.”
Dan Winston, Spin’s regional manager for the Washington area, agreed with city officials that fewer operators could facilitate better oversight and make it easier for customers to find and choose a ride.
“From a consumer perspective, it means people don’t have to download all different kinds of apps; from a regulator’s standpoint, enforcement and communication is a lot easier,” Winston said. Spin was one of the first dockless companies to arrive in the city in 2017. In recent weeks, it has been adding docking stations where the devices can be recharged.
The rules are a major upgrade to the existing terms and conditions governing the micromobility program, which began as a pilot for dockless conventional bikes two years ago and has since grown to include e-scooters, e-bikes and most recently, mopeds.
Under the proposed changes, the companies also will be required to allow DDOT to install GPS trackers on a random sample of devices for research purposes, and report to DDOT within 24 hours any issue that could affect public safety, including criminal activity, traffic crashes and fires involving their devices.
Providers will have to deploy vehicles to all eight wards in the city. To promote better distribution of the devices, the District will require that companies deploy a maximum of 1,000 vehicles to the central business district.
The 2020 permit also increases to 20 the minimum of vehicles that must be deployed in each ward by 6 a.m. It also establishes “equity” zones, primarily east of the Anacostia River, where companies will be required to deploy at least 400 vehicles for use during the morning rush hour. This is a change from this year’s permit, which requires companies to have at least six vehicles in each ward by 6 a.m. — a minimum that the city said has not provided adequate availability outside downtown.
Some of the existing rules will remain: Companies will need to continue to offer a cash payment option to customers, restrict scooter speeds to 10 mph and pay fees per device to the city. The companies will be required to continue to submit monthly data reports to DDOT with information such as the number of rides and vehicles in service, instances of reported safety incidents, and improper parking.
The city is expected to adopt the final rules before the end of the year after reviewing the public comment. Marootian said the city will continue to find ways to make the program stronger because it views it as a valuable tool for diversifying transportation options.
“We are looking at all of the ways that we can reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips,” he said. And one way, he said, is to make the scooters and bikes “available options across all eight wards of our city for people to move to and from their destinations.”