Scooter companies Lime and Bird, two of the early entrants into the scooter scene in the District and nationwide, were not awarded permits to continue their operations in the city. Neither were Bolt and Razor. Come Jan. 1, scooters provided by those companies will not be allowed within the city limits, even if they are rented in the Washington suburbs.
The city had announced plans in October to reduce the number of scooter operators and put four slots for scooter operations and four for e-bikes up for bid. Thirteen scooter companies and five e-bike companies applied, according to DDOT. An interagency committee evaluated the applications on a 198-point scale and selected the top point earners.
Helbiz, an Italian company that launched its first e-bike operation in Rome last month, and Jump, which already operates e-bikes in the District, secured bike permits. Each will be allowed to deploy up to 2,500 of the devices.
Under new rules to go into effect next month, 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.
Calling it the “next phase” of the program, DDOT officials said they anticipate the changes will help create more reliable and accessible transportation across all eight wards of the city.
“The District’s 2020 dockless vehicle sharing program is rooted in thoughtful expansion, program evaluation and feedback from stakeholders,” DDOT Director Jeff Marootian said in a statement.
Currently, the eight companies permitted to operate deploy just over 5,200 scooters combined. Additionally, Jump has nearly 1,000 e-bikes in service.
While the District’s picks may have surprised some scooter enthusiasts who saw Lime and Bird as strong contenders, it was not surprising that ride-hailing powerhouses Uber (with Jump) and Lyft, whose services have a strong presence in the region, made the cut. The scooter divisions of the companies, however, have recently made national headlines. Lyft announced last month that it was pulling its scooters from six U.S. cities, and Jump has been entangled in a fight with Los Angeles over the suspension of its operations permit.
The District’s selection was a relief for the San Francisco-based start-up Skip, which announced in late October that it was permanently closing its San Francisco operations after it failed to get a permit to operate in that city. The company’s only other market was the District, and its fate in the District became uncertain last summer when one of its scooters caught fire downtown.
Skip’s operations were suspended for six weeks, and the company acknowledged past safety lapses had contributed to the downtown fire and another at its warehouse involving batteries. The city allowed the company to resume operations, saying it had demonstrated it was taking “clear steps” to ensure it was following best safety practices.
Spin, part of the Ford family, said in a statement that it plans to increase the reliability of its services and reduce scooter clutter by establishing more scooter hubs across the city. The company was among the first start-ups to deploy dockless vehicles to D.C. streets, more than two years ago.
“We are honored to be selected to serve the District with safe and sustainable shared mobility services,” the company said.
Representatives from some of the companies that were denied permits expressed disappointment about the city’s decision to keep them out of one of the busiest scooter markets in the nation. Some of the companies also operate in Alexandria and in Arlington and Montgomery counties.
“As one of the longest serving micromobility providers in D.C., we’re extremely disappointed by this decision,” said Robert Gardner, Lime’s director of government relations for the Washington region. ″We will continue to explore ways to serve the city and its residents going forward.”
In its application, the company had cited its roots in the city, describing strong relationships with community groups and its efforts to address concerns about transportation equity. Lime users have taken more than 2 million rides, the company said.
Lime also operates in Arlington, and some of its users are known for renting scooters to cross the Potomac River to travel between the District and the county. The companies will have to enable technology to stop users from crossing jurisdictional lines.
By keeping the number of operators to four, officials say the city will be able to provide better oversight and respond more expeditiously to public complaints about issues such as badly parked scooters. Next year, the companies 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 number of vehicles that must be deployed in each ward by 6 a.m. daily. 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.