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Eight transportation companies are vying for permits to operate shared scooters in the nation’s capital next year as the District eyes its first major expansion of the program.
DC will allow the deployment of up to 20,000 scooters citywide next year — a 40 percent increase from current levels — while limiting to five the number of companies authorized to operate the devices. The changes are aimed at improving oversight of personal-mobility services and allowing for growth in the number of scooters available, which stalled during the pandemic.
The new regulations come nearly five years after scooters debuted in the city, quickly becoming a popular choice of travel for residents, tourists and downtown workers. After a slow period at the start of the pandemic, operators are reporting growing ridership and demand for more devices, prompting the city to boost the supply of shared scooters and bikes on DC streets.
New rules unveiled this fall established incentives for companies to offer programs for low-income riders and set a minimum requirement for the number of devices in each ward. The regulations also emphasize education requirements for users and stress rules for companies operating scooters, such as to equip them with locking devices and ensure users verify with post-ride pictures that scooters and bikes are adequately parked.
Under the new guidelines, the companies next year will be required to deploy at least 3 percent of their devices to each ward on a given day, which officials said would result in a more equitable distribution of devices and ensure fleets are available east of the Anacostia river. The rules also require operators to restrict the deployment of scooters within 300 feet of elementary schools and senior wellness centers.
DC transportation chief Everett Lott said the program is “a fundamental part” of the city’s plan to “provide reliable multimodal transportation options for those traveling in DC while limiting the reliability of single-occupancy vehicle trips.”
More than 5 million trips on shared devices were taken in the last fiscal year, according to District Department of Transportation records, mostly on scooters.
Under the new guidelines, companies newly launching in the city will be required to start with 720 scooters and build up their fleets as demand increases. DDOT will grant expansions after evaluating a company’s performance. Companies that secure a permit next year and already are operating in the city — each of which already has more than 2,000 devices — will be allowed to keep deploying their current number of scooters.
DDOT officials said companies will be able to deploy up to 5,000 devices, depending on demand, although the total number of devices on city streets can’t exceed 20,000. Existing permits allow companies a maximum of 2,500 scooters.
The city will also issue up to four permits for e-bike operators next year, with an initial maximum fleet size of 2,500 bikes and the possibility of having the cap removed in the future. DDOT has received five applications from e-bike operators. The new permits for scooters and e-bikes will be effective Jan. 1 and last 24 months.
Five companies — Bird, Helbiz, Lime, Lyft and Spin — operate scooters in the District with permits to deploy nearly 12,000 devices combined. Bolt and Razor left the city amid pandemic-era challenges. Lime also has a permit to deploy 2,500 e-bikes.
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The guidelines require companies to educate riders on the right way to park, including asking them to leave scooters upright; locked to a pole or bicycle rack; and at a location that doesn’t impede pedestrian traffic, access to entrances and driveways, or access to Capital Bikeshare stations and transit. The companies are also required to educate new users about safe practices by requiring them to watch a video, with additional measures for those who violate rules.
E-scooter companies next year will need to pay higher fees to the city, increases that DDOT says reflect “augmented program management as the needs of the program evolve.”
Among those is a monthly $10 fee per scooter or bike — doubling the current fee — but companies can have those fees waived if they have a robust program that subsidizes rides for low-income residents. According to regulations, a waiver of all device fees is available when at least 15 percent of trips are from users participating in a low-income plan.
Erika Duthely, director of government relations at Lime, said the company is eager to continue its operations in DC, which she said is “a shining example of how successful micromobility can be in connecting communities and residents to opportunities, employment and transit.”
Lime, which is applying to continue to operate scooters and e-bikes, said ridership “has never been better in DC” September was Lime’s best ridership month, with nearly 360,000 rides — a 50 percent increase from September of last year.
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Lyft, which also applied for a scooter permit, said the new process and requirements emphasize the city’s focus on equity. The company said half of its scooter riders in DC use transit on a weekly basis, including thousands of low-income residents who have enrolled in its reduced-fare Community Pass program.
“Scooters are a convenient and affordable way to get around DC, and we hope to continue to partner with DDOT to offer them to riders,” Lyft said in a statement.
The District three years ago tried to reduce the number of scooter operators to four through an application process that was criticized as flawed and resulted in multiple companies filing appeals. The city retracted the measure, then extended existing permits. The previous permits were extended again last year because of the pandemic, then were extended again this year to reduce service impacts as the region returned to more normal commutes.