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D.C. extends permits for scooter, dockless bike operators through June

New terms will emphasize stricter parking requirements and better distribution of devices

A rider uses an electric scooter on K Street NW in D.C. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
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The D.C. Department of Transportation is extending permits that allow dockless bikes and electric scooters in the city, dropping an earlier plan to limit the number of operators that would have taken effect in January.

Existing fleets of personal mobility devices will be allowed to operate through June 30, officials said, citing a desire to continue to give residents and visitors access to the popular transportation option.

The city plans to unveil amended terms and conditions that more clearly define rules for bike and scooter parking, equitable distribution of the devices, geofencing requirements and rules on sidewalk riding, officials said.

“We do not expect substantial changes to the existing terms and conditions, and there will be minimal impact on users,” DDOT said in a statement.

The decision to extend the existing permits by six months follows pushback by the companies that deploy electric scooters and bikes against a city plan to limit the number of providers. The companies had asked D.C. for an extension, saying it would ensure that services are not interrupted as the region starts to resume normal commutes and travel after pandemic-related disruptions.

Scooter companies push back against proposed permit system in D.C.

Five companies have permits to operate scooters in the District: Bird, Helbiz, Lime, Lyft and Spin. Lime is also permitted to deploy electric bikes.

DDOT notified the operators in the summer about plans to bring back a competitive permitting process that would limit to eight the number of companies authorized to rent out scooters, with three of those allowed to operate both scooters and bikes.

D.C. two years ago tried to reduce the number of operators to four through an application process that was criticized as flawed, and that move resulted in multiple companies appealing. The city retracted the measure, then extended the permits. The old permits were extended again through 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This month, the city notified the companies that their permits could be extended through June 30. Some of the companies welcomed the news, citing recent investments to improve safety and expand access to communities across the city.

“With COVID upending people’s lives, we appreciate DDOT for providing consistency to D.C. residents looking to get around the city with open air, single passenger transportation,” Robert Gardner, Lime’s director of government relations for the Washington region, said in a statement. “We’re glad for the opportunity to continue serving the District, and with our recent investments in hardware upgrades, Lime is well-positioned to keep D.C. moving sustainably during this extension.”

DDOT said it would formally add the “lock-to” requirement that went into effect on Oct. 1 to the terms and conditions for the 2022 permit. The new law that went into effect last month mandates that all scooters and dockless bikes be locked to racks or poles.

Dominick Tribone, Lyft’s general manager for the Washington area, said the permit extension “is a welcome step in the ongoing evolution of the scooter program, which will allow time for everyone to adapt to recent changes like the lock-to requirement.”

Detection technology could help keep e-scooters off sidewalks

Users also are required to verify with post-ride pictures that scooters and bikes have been adequately parked. Companies must review pictures within 24 hours and send notifications about unsatisfactory parking to riders either through the apps or via email, according to instructions from the city.

The city allows more than 10,000 scooters and 2,500 bikes among all providers. It is unclear whether the city will allow companies to deploy more devices in 2022.

The new terms and conditions should be available to operators by January, DDOT said.

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