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Six things D.C. says it’s learned about scooters and dockless bikes since they arrived

Overall ridership increased significantly, but the growth was uneven across the city

Alyssa Nassner

As District officials prepare to see more electric scooters and dockless bikes on city streets next year, they are also reflecting on what they have learned since welcoming the vehicles through a pilot program that kicked off last year. This week, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration submitted an official report on the pilot program to District policymakers.

The report shows that the overall use of dockless vehicles has grown significantly over the course of the pilot, from more than 10,000 trips taken in September 2017—the month it launched—to more than 100,000 trips taken in April 2018 and subsequent months. During that same period, the number of scooter and dockless bike riders also ballooned, from just under 6,000 riders to tens of thousands of riders. Individual vehicles saw more daily trips.

D.C. government

The report includes other findings about electric scooters and dockless bikes, outlined below. But first, a couple of caveats: It is largely based on data provided to officials by the companies that supplied the vehicles, and covers only the first 10 months of the program, through June 2018. In a letter accompanying the report, Bowser writes that the District still has “so much to learn” about scooters and dockless bikes and will continue to evaluate their performance.

1) Scooters drove the growth in dockless vehicle ridership. “Bicycles saw steady usage across fall months with a decrease across the winter months,” the report says. “The number of [dockless] trips increased dramatically in spring 2018 with the introduction of scooters.” This could help explain why the majority of the applications for 2019 dockless vehicle permits that the District has received are for scooters (11 of 16 total applications).

D.C. government

2) Dockless vehicles do not seem to have eaten into Capital Bikeshare ridership or revenue and may actually have complemented them. “During the demonstration period,” says the report, “dockless ridership appears to be additive to Capital Bikeshare and has increased overall bikeshare ridership in comparison to 2017 and 2016.” Such a finding aligns with research on dockless vehicles, out of Georgetown University, that was based on similar data. (Capital Bikeshare piloted e-bikes from September 2018 through November.)

Dockless vehicle trip data compared to Capital Bikeshare trip data
D.C. government

3) But more Capital Bikeshare bikes went missing during the dockless vehicles pilot than ever before in the service’s history. The report says the number of Capital Bikeshare bikes that were not returned to stations since the début of the program (126) was more than double the number recorded in the preceding seven years of Capital Bikeshare’s operations (61). Here’s how D.C. officials put it: “Capital Bikeshare is experiencing greater confusion among riders regarding the requirement to end a trip by docking a bicycle at a station.” Turns out scooters and dockless bikes aren’t the only vehicles witnessing misuse.

4) Dockless vehicle trips are concentrated in Wards 1, 2, and 6, and tend to be short. The report says most riders use scooters and dockless bikes to travel less than a mile. The majority of trips registered during the first 10 months of the pilot occurred within Ward 2. Meanwhile, as the Washington Post recently reported, Wards 7 and 8 remain underserved. New regulations for the vehicles that are set to go into effect in January require that mobility companies provide at least six vehicles each in every one of D.C.’s eight wards by 6 a.m. daily. A current 400-vehicle-per-company cap will also be raised, permitting more vehicles in total.

D.C. government

5) Dockless vehicles have been involved in some crashes. Thirty crashes were reported to the District Department of Transportation through July 2018, including 18 injuries, the report notes. The data came from the mobility companies and D.C. police. “Additional crashes and injuries may have occurred that were not reported either to [the Metropolitan Police Department] or the companies,” according to the report. Beyond the data period—in September 2018—a driver fatally struck a scooter rider in Dupont Circle.

D.C. government

6) Data on dockless vehicles can be hard to pin down. Although the companies that have participated in the pilot are required to share information about trips with the District, this has not always gone smoothly. “[T]here were initial challenges in standardizing the data and getting complete data from companies,” the report says. “Data compliance issues made it difficult to gauge the performance of the program at times and have highlighted that full and complete data is crucial.” To improve such issues, officials say they are considering working with Los Angeles, which has developed a means of systematizing data on dockless vehicles.