Photo by the author.

District law accommodates bicycles and automobiles together on urban streets, but scooters sit in a gray area. Some are classified as motorcycles and others motorized bicycles, which enjoy greater flexibility. To encourage this alternate mode of transportation, regulations should treat scooters more like bicycles than motorcycles. 

In February, I purchased what I thought was a scooter. And then I thought it was a motorcycle. And then, a scooter. Now, I can say with certainty that my Vespa LX 50 is classified in the District of Columbia as a motorcycle.

According to a guide from the DC government, a scooter is a motorcycle if it has any of 5 characteristics: wheels under 16 inches in diameter, an engine greater than 50 cc, the ability to travel in excess of 35 mph on level ground, more than 1½ brake horsepower, or a manual transmission. If a scooter has none of those, it’s a motorized bicycle.

So why does this matter? Motorized bicycle owners are not required to pass a motorcycle skills test or wear a helmet and can ride in bike lanes. Most importantly, motorized bicycles can park in a bicycle rack or on a street curb “so as not to impede pedestrian traffic,” while motorcycles must park in the street.

These parking restrictions cause problems for scooter owners because scooters are easily movable and they must be locked to something (a post or sign) or else they can easily be stolen, unlike a motorcycle. Because there is nothing to lock a scooter to when parked on the street, most scooter owners park on sidewalks, in violation of DC law. They frequently get tickets for doing so.

Because of the complexity of the rules, some scooter owners are unaware that they actually drive a “motorcycle” and cannot park on a sidewalk. Believing themselves to be unfairly ticketed, they resort to tactics like this owner, who posted the DC chart on a sign reading “PLEASE DON’T TICKET”:


Photo by the author.


Scooter theft is a real concern. While there are no publicly available statistics about its incidence in DC (an inquiry to both the DC DMV and MPD went unanswered), seemingly every owner I’ve met has either had a scooter stolen in the past or knows someone who has.

It’s time for city officials to understand the consequences of these regulations and to grant scooter owners the right to secure their property, or at least not write a ticket them for doing so.

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Jeremy Barr is a graduate journalism student at the University of Maryland. He previously worked in non-profit communications and has interned in politics on several occasions. In the last year and a half, he has lived in Adams Morgan, Logan Circle and Mount Vernon Square. Email him at jeremy.m.barr@gmail.com.