Over the past year, you have likely witnessed the District’s latest experiment in last mile transportation–electric scooters. I recently had the opportunity to learn more about electric scooters and the DC pilot program from Terry Owens, Public Information Officer for the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), Sanjay Dastoor, Co-Founder and CEO of Skip, and a spokesperson for Lime. Last month, DDOT extended the pilot program through the end of 2018. Neighboring Arlington, Va. will launch their pilot program in October 2018.
Electric scooters, powered solely by batteries, have been seen by many as a way to reduce pollution as well as motor vehicle traffic congestion. As Dastoor puts it, “In addition to being a great alternative for trips that are too short for a car, but too long to hoof it, e-scooters are fun to ride!” Electric scooters are permitted for use in bike lanes, which makes the scooters a good fit for DC. According to Owens, “DC has more than 80 miles of bike lanes and DDOT has installed over two-and-a-half miles this year, with another two-and-a-half miles planned.”
The scooters are ‘dockless,’ meaning that when riders reach their destination, they simply leave the scooter for the next rider to use rather than returning to a pre-located dock. Individuals looking to rent a scooter can view the location of the nearest scooters on a mobile application, which utilizes the scooters’ built-in GPS system.
The pilot program began in September 2017. Through June 2018, a total of 270,000 trips on electric scooters were completed in the District. DDOT, the entity overseeing the pilot program, works closely with the participating companies and requires each company to provide monthly use data. DDOT also manages questions and complaints, working to match the pilot program with the needs of the District. Following traffic laws, riding in bike lanes and using a helmet are all strongly recommended practices to reduce injury and improve safety for communities.
When asked why Skip decided to participate in the pilot program, Dastoor stated, “DC is unique because it was the first city to offer a pilot program for e-scooter sharing in the United States. They were ahead of the curve in creating a system that would allow its community access to a new form of transportation.”
Currently the pilot program is capped at 400 vehicles per company. For companies who operate both scooters and dockless bikes, such as Lime, this means the company must determine how many dockless bicycles and how many electric scooters will make up the 400 vehicle cap. This also means that the overall numbers of these vehicles is quite low, especially considering that DC’s daytime population often exceeds one million individuals.
“The cap of 400 vehicles in DC is a challenge because our riders often ask us to serve their neighborhood, and due to fleet constraints, we are limited in our ability to broadly serve the city. DC residents are hungry for more mobility options, and we are working closely with DDOT to expand the cap,” said a spokesperson with Lime.
All of the scooter companies require a mobile phone and the company’s application to use the service. Both Lime and Skip have established programs to ensure electric scooters are available to everyone. “Providing access to underserved communities is important to Lime, which is why we have partnered with PayNearMe and support a text-to-unlock feature, both of which promote equitable mobility by removing the barrier of smartphone and credit card ownership. We offer these options as part of our Lime Access program, which offers 50 percent plus discounts on rides for qualifying riders,” said the Lime spokesperson.
To prioritize accessibility for underserved communities, Skip provides a 50 percent discount for qualified low-income riders and works directly with cities to ensure Skip scooters are available for a diverse population of riders.
Electric scooters have become a regular feature at many of the SE/SW DC stadiums. Earlier this summer, Skip added deployment drop-offs at the baseball stadium during the All Star weekend and they have plans to increase their scooter drop-offs around events this fall. Likewise, Lime is an official sponsor of DC United, and they frequently have booths outside the soccer stadium to engage with stadium visitors.
For those looking to enjoy their first ride on an electric scooter, Dastoor offers the following advice, “We want riders to remember that motorized scooters are safest when ridden in a responsible and law-abiding manner, with helmets, and eyes on the road at all times.”
BY Andrew Roszak