Woman on a Bird scooter at 19th and M NW by the author.

The District's dockless bike and scooter “pilot” program will continue for another three months, with little expansion but some more new restrictions.

Today, five companies offer bikes or scooters that can be found and rented with an app. JUMP offers electric-assist bikes, while Bird, Skip, and Lime offer scooters. Lime and Spin formerly offered non-electric bikes, but Lime has largely or entirely switched to scooters and Spin has announced it's doing the same. With bike companies Mobike and ofo having left the Washington area market, this program has evolved into entirely electric vehicles, either bikes or scooters. (And Capital Bikeshare will soon offer e-bikes as well).

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will also begin allowing new companies to start service in DC, so there could be some more options, though I haven't heard names of any specific companies.

The cap will stay, for now

Each company is limited to 400 vehicles, a cap both the companies and transportation advocates argue is too low. GGWash, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, DC Sierra Club, and several other organizations created a petition asking DC to plan for a more expansive future with at least 20,000 bikes between docked (Capital Bikeshare) and dockless options.

According to the Washington Post's Luz Lazo, DDOT is working on plans to raise the cap in some way, though details were not publicly available. Bike and scooter companies have proposed ideas such as a “trip based cap” which would allow companies to expand as long as they're operating more than, say, three rides per vehicle per day. This means as long as the service is actually moving people around, it's clear there is more demand, and so it makes sense to grow; if it's not, it should shrink, at least temporarily.

Such ideas do have some details to work through. For instance, that could also create an incentive to put all the vehicles in the busiest downtown areas instead of farther-out neighborhoods and/or ones where people have less income to potentially spend on bike or scooter rides. It also might lead some unscrupulous operator to sabotage its competitors to drive down their rides per day. DDOT officials will want to think through these possibilities and other alternatives.

Our contributors generally want to see more bikes and scooters available soon. David Edmondson wrote,

I never have access to dockless bikes or scooters in north Columbia Heights where I live. I live a 15-minute walk from the Metro, and if I need to get somewhere fast I'd like to have that option; right now, I just don't because there is far more demand than bike or scooter. On top of that, people park the scooters inside their homes or hide them outside. It has gotten to the point where I can't rely on the apps because, nine out of ten times, they're just inside someone's home.

Downtown, however, dockless stuff is dense enough that I can actually rely on it, and they make travel a breeze. If I take the S9 bus to work or need to get across town and didn't bring my own bike, I always look for something dockless.

We need way, way more dockless things of all kinds. With 800 bikes gone because of the departures of Ofo and Mobike, it's only going to get harder to rely on this for transportation outside downtown.

Justin Lini, a contributor and ANC Commissioner in the Parkside neighborhood east of the Anacostia, said,

Dockless bikeshare coverage has dropped off precipitously in Ward 7 as well, although my sense is that Jump is covering us the best. We do see the scooters at the metro stations. I'm not sure how effective they are here since the distances tend to be greater and we have more hills.

And David Whitehead summed it up: “This does not look like expansive bold thinking. It looks like reacting to Popville posts.”

Got a bike? Lock it to something

WAMU's Jordan Pascale reported that the new rules will require bikes be locked to racks, sign posts, or other fixed objects. JUMP has always required this, while the other bike companies did not. However, since those companies are gone, this rule won't hurt any current service that's not already being phased out.

While this won't have much practical effect, contributors and advocates were still skeptical. Pascale wrote, “Greg Billing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, says the idea to lock bikes is good in theory, but there’s not enough bike parking or places to lock bikes for it to be a fair requirement.”

There were certainly cases of bikes being throw in canals and the like, something DDOT is responding to. The number of complaints I've seen anecdotally has abated, though that also could be because companies have been pulling out of the market.

The best approach would be, as Billing suggests, an aggressive effort to add bike racks. “The city has added racks to accommodate more than 200 bikes and is on track to add an additional 300 racks this fall,” Lazo wrote, though that's only a fraction of what's really needed. Councilmember David Grosso suggested a plan to add a bike rack on every street corner. That or another “Manhattan project of bike parking,” including in-street corrals in busy downtown areas, would both make lock-to a reasonable rule (including for scooters, perhaps) and also help everyone who rides personal bikes (remember those?)

Gordon Chaffin said,

I'm growing increasingly skeptical that dockless bikes and scooters are pushing officials to think of streets as more than throughputs for cars. We're fighting over inches on narrow, crumbling, crowded sidewalks. People must see the bad parking of these bikes and scooters as a symptom of lack of parking — not a result of carelessness.

David Edmondson added,

I worry that the city and agitators are fighting against the perceived-to-be villainous companies without fighting against the actual social ill that could actually arise. By fighting against companies we think will screw us over, we're screwing ourselves over.

In addition to the above rules, DDOT will be issuing formal rulemakings to set some as-yet-undisclosed level of fees and also fines for improper parking. DDOT has also added some new data reporting requirements, a company representative told me.

What do you think of this plan?

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.