During some of the early-morning testimony, the mother of a child who was struck and seriously injured by a scooter in a park called on the city to ban them altogether. Representatives of some of the city’s nightlife businesses warned against over regulation, saying the scooters are facilitating the transportation of patrons and workers to bars and restaurants. Between the two sides, residents and officials appeared to agree on one thing: there is a lack of enforcement of scooter rules.
“Who is enforcing?” Chuck Elkins, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner representing Upper Northwest, told the panel’s transportation committee. “Part of the problem is we have these rules and people know they really don’t have to abide by them.”
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who chaired the hearing and was the only council member present for the four-hour discussion, said serious concerns about scooters are in part because the technology is so new that the city does not have a scooter culture, resulting “in many users neglecting to follow important safety rules.”
“Many scooter users weave in and out of pedestrians on the sidewalk at high speeds, do not follow important safety rules, ride while inebriated, and routinely discard scooters that block pedestrian walkways, private driveways, and handicap accessible ramps,” Cheh said. “Users have also been seen riding with two people on a single scooter, which is both against the rules and extremely dangerous. This bad behavior is not just dangerous to the user, but to the public at large as well.”
The debate comes as scooter use appears to be on the rise in the District, one of the first U.S. cities to allow the services, and as the District Department of Transportation moves to establish new rules for the services next year, seeking to reduce the number of operators while doubling the number of scooters on city streets.
Residents offered their views on a bill that aims to “control” scooter operations and set rules for where scooters can be parked and establish new speed limits. The legislation would give DDOT the authority to fine operators that fail to address complaints and revoke their operations permit if they consistently fail to abide by the rules.
Cheh introduced the proposal in June in part, she said, because scooters have created a “Wild West” environment. Cheh announced at the start of the hearing that following input from residents and business leaders she had dropped a controversial provision in the bill that would ban their use between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
Brooke Finland, a Ward 4 resident, urged the city to ban the scooters, recounting how her 8-year-old son was struck by a Lime scooter while playing on a sidewalk. He was hospitalized with serious injuries in what was “a terrifying and emotional experience,” she said.
“If your children cannot play safely at the neighborhood park, where can they?” she said, urging the panel that if it doesn’t ban the devices to enforce the rules, including the prohibition of multiple riders on one scooter, require helmet use and enforce the requirement that riders be at least 18. She also lobbied for a ban on scooters in school zones.
“Scooters need to be banned from sidewalks,” she said. But she asked: “Is it actually feasible to enforce these rules, are police going to ticket users?”
Steven Reichert, a personal fitness trainer who works with the elderly and people with disabilities who struggle to navigate city streets, said city regulations, and the proposal before the council, do not do enough to address the sidewalk conflicts. Cheh’s bill, he said, allows scooters to continue to be ridden on sidewalks outside of the central business district.
“It lacks any enforcement mechanism whatsoever, and it doesn’t define liability when accidents occur,” said Reichert, who for months has been documenting badly parked scooters and illegal riding behaviors such as two people riding one scooter or riders ignoring the ban on riding on downtown sidewalks.
Some company representatives and scooter supporters warned city officials may be over-regulating and failing to take into consideration the high demand for the devices, even after dark. Representatives from Bird, Lime, Lyft, Skip and Spin offered vague answers to questions about liability waivers and how they ensure users follow the rules of the road and response to citizen complaints. Some said their companies offer incentives for good parking, but acknowledged challenges tracking bad behaviors.
“Complaints have definitely gone down over time,” said Hannah Smith, senior manager at Bird.
Scooter users and companies spoke against any effort to ban riding on sidewalks citywide, citing a lack of in-road infrastructure where scooter riders would feel safe.
“I know the sidewalks are a huge issue, but there are many areas of the city where you cannot safely ride on the road,” said Andrew Shapiro, a frequent scooter user. “You don’t have any other options.”
Robert Gardner, Lime’s director of government relations for the Washington region, said the company will continue to urge the council to not be “overly prescriptive and instead to use data to drive decision-making. ”
Thousands of city residents rely on scooter services, he said. “It’s critical we don’t stifle their use and continued adoption.”
The rules in the council bill mirror some already set by DDOT, which regulates the services. The city agency has established fees for operators and a cap on the number of scooters each company is allowed to deploy.
DDOT Director Jeff Marootian told the council that despite the challenges, the agency views scooters and other personal mobility programs as tools to address residents’ travel needs. He said in fiscal 2019, there were nearly 5.3 million trips on shared bikes and scooters in the city. To address concerns about sidewalk clutter and conflicts with pedestrians, he said, the city is creating more on-street parking zones for scooters and bikes.
“We require the companies to ensure users know the rules,” Marootian said.
He said DDOT opposes Cheh’s proposal to increase the speed limit for scooters to 15 miles per hour from 10 mph on streets or bike lanes and reduce it to 6 mph on sidewalks.
“DDOT recommends that there be a single speed limit for these devices, rather than attempting to set distinct speed limits for sidewalk and roadway operation,” Marootian said.
DDOT recently announced a plan to limit the number of companies authorized to operate scooters in the city to four, allowing each to deploy as many as 2,500 devices. Under that plan the companies will also have the choice to apply for a separate permit to operate bikes — as many as 2,500 each — for a total of 10,000 bikes citywide.
The new guidelines would bring exponential growth to the program that now permits eight companies to operate 5,235 scooters combined. One company, Jump, also operates e-bikes.
Nearly 1 in 6 District residents used e-scooters in the past year, according to a recent Washington Post poll, including 6 percent who used them at least a few times a week.