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D.C. to expand the number of scooters and dockless bikes allowed in 2019

But advocates and mobility companies cast the move as tepid

Scooters in downtown D.C.

Residents will probably notice more scooters and dockless bikes on D.C.’s streets next year thanks to updated rules for the vehicles that transportation officials announced this week.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) says in 2019 it will permit companies to each operate up to 600 dockless vehicles per type of vehicle, and to grow their fleets by 25 percent each quarter at the agency’s discretion. A company could offer up to 1,200 to start.

Currently, companies are individually allowed to operate up to 400 vehicles total under a pilot program. Five operators are participating: Skip, Bird, Lime, Lyft, and Jump. Uber owns Jump, which is the only operator that provides a full electric-bike fleet. The other operators predominately offer scooters, with Lyft joining the pack last month. (A sixth company, Spin, started out with dockless bikes, but announced it would shift to scooters. Lime did as well.)

The new rules are set to take effect in January. In instructions for applying for 2019 permits, DDOT says it “will reward reasonably good stewardship of public space, vehicle safety and maintenance, and adherence to data sharing conditions.” The instructions also outline fees for operating dockless vehicles in D.C. that will be higher toward the beginning of the year.

Per-vehicle fees for scooters and dockless bikes
D.C. government

Additionally, operators will also be required to pay annual permit fees and $10,000 bonds to DDOT for moving dockless vehicles “that are parked illegally or have otherwise remained an obstruction in the public right of way.” DDOT says the yearly $10,000 bonds are refundable, and that companies must request separate permits to operate dockless bikes and scooters.

Other rules for mobility companies include deploying a minimum of 100 vehicles across all eight wards of the city by 6 a.m. each day, restricting scooter and electric-bike speeds to 10 mph and 20 mph, respectively, and providing the District “anonymous trip data for planning purposes and program evaluation,” per a release. All dockless bikes must be equipped with locking mechanisms so they can be parked on posts and racks. (Jump bikes already feature this capability.) Officials are also encouraging adaptive vehicles for people with disabilities.

In a statement, DDOT Director Jeff Marootian says the new requirements aim to balance the mobility benefits of dockless vehicles against the community’s “many valid concerns” about “safety and equity.” People have taken more than 940,000 rides on scooters and dockless since they débuted in the District in September 2017. Recently, a driver struck and killed a man who was riding a scooter in Dupont Circle—one of 31 traffic fatalities in D.C. this year.

Despite the planned expansion of the dockless vehicle program, some mobility companies and advocates say the District could be much more welcoming to non-car modes of transit. Over the summer, a coalition of nonprofit groups called for 20,000 dockless vehicles in D.C., and operators have said they are not completely meeting demand because of the current cap.

“The proposed vehicle fleet of 600 vehicles [per company] is simply not enough to meet the city’s transportation needs,” a spokeswoman for Lime told the Washington Post after DDOT unveiled the new requirements on Monday. She added that the cap needs to be “significantly increased” for the company to “reliably and equitably” serve people throughout the District.

Operators have until Nov. 19 to submit dockless vehicle permit applications to DDOT. Residents may also comment on proposed regulations for the vehicles until Nov. 26.

This post has been updated to clarify that the 600 vehicle limit applies to type of vehicle.