Photo by waitscm on Flickr.

It may have taken two arrests of a 64-year-old Georgetown woman, but there is hope on the horizon for those who want changes in the District’s scooter regulations.

DC law classifies all motor scooters as motorcycles, meaning that scooter owners must hold motorcycle licenses, wear a helmet, register their scooter, show proof of insurance, and pass a motorcycle skills test. Violating the law could land you in jail, as it did for Ann Goodman, though Goodman also appears to have deliberately flouted the law.

Many scooter owners want rules specifically for scooters, distinct from motorcycles. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chairs the DC Council committee with oversight of motor vehicles, is sympathetic. “It shouldn’t be a matter of police officers measuring the wheelbase or something like that,” Cheh told NBC4 after learning of the arrests. “We should have clear categories.”

Cheh said she “hopes to introduce a bill before the end of the year that puts scooters and motorcycles in different, easy-to-understand categories,” according to the article.

"Hope” is an ambiguous word, so I reached out to Cheh’s senior policy advisor William Handsfield to get more clarity on when we might see a piece of legislation.

"We’ve been thinking about it a lot, but I don’t think there are any clear cut answers,” Handsfield wrote in an email. “We’ll be doing more on this topic soon, as the status quo is unsatisfactory.”

Parking is biggest issue

While the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is “responsible for classifying vehicles and determining registration requirements,” the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) sets parking rules based on those classifications, said Monica Hernandez, a communications specialist for DDOT, in an email.

In addition to evaluating the policies in place, DDOT is developing a program to create on-street scooter spaces, Hernandez wrote.

Handsfield mentioned that, while at DDOT, he headed a program which installed on-street bike racks around the city. “In the two years since we installed those racks, we’ve noticed that scooter owners often lock up there as well, which I think most would agree is preferential to scooters on the sidewalk,” he wrote.

A quick search turned up articles about on-street racks being installed in numerous cities around the country, including New York and Seattle. In DC, it’s illegal for scooters to park in bicycle racks.

In the comments on my earlier post, David C wrote,

We discussed the issue of scooters/bikes at a Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting. ... For parking we decided that we really didn’t care if they parked at bike racks. We just need a lot more bike racks. But we don’t think they should be riding in the bike lane.

The lack of parking options, as well as some confusing information, is the biggest issue with the current scooter laws, said Wellesley Scott, president of Modern Classics, a motorcycle and scooter store in Brentwood, and an authority on all things scooter. 

"The problem is that… they’re written by people who don’t ride,” Scott said.  “Scooter theft in the city is a huge issue.”

He proposed a sidewalk parking permit as a way to address the issue of scooter owners needing to secure their scooter while also providing a source of revenue for the city.

Scott doesn’t support a wide-scale change to the laws on the books, and says that riders have to bear some blame, especially in Goodman’s case. “People choose to read the laws now the way they want them to read,” said Scott, an attorney. “I hear about customers getting arrested all the time.”

He said that some prospective owners are deterred by the complexity and strictness of the laws, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “What’s important to me is to have people who are licensed and insured on the road,” Scott said.

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.