Scooter riders by Payton Chung licensed under Creative Commons.

At least 12 companies have applied to offer dockless bikes and scooters in DC in 2019. If (and that’s a big if) all of those companies get their permits, succeed and don’t leave the District, that allows up to 9,600 dockless bikes and scooters and possibly 16,800 by the end of 2019. Add 4,300 Capital Bikeshare bikes and we reach the 20,000 shared bikes and scooters goal we suggested—but that might not come to pass.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) just issued its final ruling on how it will regulate dockless bikes and scooters in 2019. The rules have essentially not changed from what was released in November. DDOT also released the list of companies that have either gotten permits or that have to work out some final details:

The 2019 Dockless Vehicle Sharing Operators that have received conditional approval (pending receipt of permit fees and required documentation) are:

Hopr (motorized bicycles and electric scooters)
Jump (motorized bicycles)
Lyft (electric scooters)
Razor (electric scooters)
Ridecell (motorized bicycles and electric scooters)
Skip(electric scooters)
Spin (electric scooters)
Wind (electric scooters)

DDOT is confirming technical details and the operators’ ability to meet all requirements for the following operators:

Bird (electric scooters)
Jump (electric scooters)
Lime (motorized bicycles)
Lime (electric scooters)
Riide (motorized bicycles)
VeoRide (electric scooters)

We did it! …right?

Earlier this year, GGWash and our partners at WABA and Sierra Club DC issued a call for an expansive growth of the dockless system in DC: 20,000 shared bikes and scooters. Dockless vehicles offer an important opportunity for “last mile” transit, helping people cover that final distance between their bus or Metro stop and their final destination. Dockless vehicles also encourage more people to get out of their cars, helping ease congestion.

In our letter, we emphasized DC’s own sustainability goal, which aims for a future where 25% of all commuting trips are by walking or biking (or scooting). Making sure that all parts of the city have access to abundant micromobility options would go a long way to supporting that goal.

We picked 20,000 based on an international study by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). The study tried to “right-size” the amount of shared bikes for a city based on population (but was actually only looking at docked bikeshare, the only technology at the time). For 700,000 residents, 20,000 is about right.

Given the latest news from DDOT, 16,800 shared bikes and scooters is pretty close. What is more, the region has 4,300 Capital Bikeshare bikes and growing, so that gets us over the hurdle, right?

Well… 16,800 dockless bikes and scooters, if all 12 companies stick around

DDOT is basing its 2019 prediction on the fact that every company that currently has a permit, and every company that has so far begun applying for a permit, stays in business in DC. Under the current regulations, each company is only allowed 600 bikes or scooters, and can apply to increase their fleet by 25% every quarter if they maintain a good track record. So, according to DDOT’s press release:

“If each of the twelve potential operators (operating under 16 permits) meets performance standards in categories such as equity, ridership, parking, safety and data reporting, the total program could grow to 16,800 vehicles by the year’s end.”

Is that a realistic prediction? It might be hard to tell. For one, all of the companies listed would have to be approved; if only the ones approved so far get it, that’s just 6,000 vehicles to begin with.

A few dockless bike operators have already left DC, and both cited the low fleet caps, as well as high proposed permitting fees. DDOT’s finalized regulations do impose significant fees on the companies, including a per-vehicle fee.

Representatives of many companies have privately and publicly said they aren’t making money at the 600 vehicle level. They claim they’re willing to operate for now in hopes of building a sustainable business, but most argue they have to scale up significantly to do so.

DDOT has only allowed for growth of 25% per quarter, and that’s based on a review by the agency using undefined criteria. It’s also reasonable to expect that the industry may consolidate, and if 12 companies turn into six, that’d cut the fleets in half.

Finally, only three, or maybe five, companies are offering electric bicycles like JUMP does today. The ITDP analysis suggested a demand of 20,000 for just bikes, and it’s clear the e-bikes offer a very powerful mobility option to reach all parts of DC. JUMP has 400 bikes today, and if all five companies get approval that number could go to 3,000, but it’s likely the real demand for e-bikes in particular is far more than 3,000.

No new regs, but a focus on equity, and hints at sidewalk legislation

Today’s final ruling acknowledges the many comments the agency has received since they released their November regulations, but essentially none of the proposed regulations have changed.

As GGWash contributors have pointed out before, many of these regulations put a far greater burden on dockless companies, than say, we put on car-hailing ones. For example, as Capitol Hill’s ANC 6C pointed out in its letter to the agency,

“[T]he per-vehicle cost as scheduled… is too high and disproportionate from other fees for vehicles on public space, namely Residential Parking Permits (RPP). At $60 per vehicle, the proposed dockless vehicle fees are almost double the per-vehicle RPP fees ($35) and yet dockless bicycles and scooters occupy much less public space than cars and contribute more to public good (because they are shared) than do private vehicles.”

However, in today’s press release the agency does place renewed emphasis on equity focused regulations:

“Illustrative of the District’s commitment to equity and accessible transportation options, all twelve potential operators for 2019 have agreed to offer unlimited half-hour rides for free to individuals with an income level at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, cash options for payment, and non-smartphone options for renting vehicles.”

All of these rules are consistent with the rules announced in November and are important improvements. However, DDOT seems to acknowledges that its rule ensuring a minimum number of bikes in scooters in each ward is not quite enough. From the rule-making:

“Several commenters asked why DDOT required a low number (six) of dockless sharing vehicles to be available in each ward on a daily basis. In the proposed rulemaking, DDOT set a minimum of six vehicles per ward to establish a quantifiable target. This is an adequate starting point to ensure a minimal level of access. However, DDOT will be evaluating the performance of dockless vehicle operating companies specifically on the equity outcomes of their service. DDOT will be able to encourage equitable availability of vehicles in all wards of the District.”

ANC 2B (Dupont Circle) offered a revision, that “the minimum number of dockless vehicles to be available in each ward should be set by percentage of the fleet, as well as an absolute number.” However DDOT says that such a requirement “could be difficult to administer, and could be burdensome on companies with smaller fleets.”

You know what would really help ensure more bikes and scooters are available in all wards? More bikes and scooters. That would allow more equitable access and allow larger enforceable minimums in each ward.

DDOT also acknowledges the many complaints it has received about bikes and scooters riding on sidewalks:

“Numerous commenters expressed preferences for where dockless sharing vehicles should be permitted to operate, including prohibiting dockless electric scooters from sidewalks, prohibiting dockless electric scooters from bicycle lanes, and allowing motorized dockless bicycles in the same locations as traditional bicycles. DDOT may address the concerns related to the operation of personal mobility devices in a separate rulemaking that would be subject to Council review. “

Current law in DC only forbids sidewalk riding in the Central Business District, which includes Foggy Bottom, the National Mall, the White House and George Washington University. Everywhere else there is no clear rule outlawing people riding on sidewalks. It’s not clear what DDOT is considering in terms of new legislation.

Undoubtedly it is far safer for everyone that bikes and scooters ride in bike lanes. However, in areas without bike lanes, should we expect dockless users to risk riding with traffic? Also, many have pointed out that DDOT’s regulations enforce a 10 mph limit on scooters, which force them to go much slower than many bicyclists and adds a speed-conflict in bike lanes.

In our 20kbikesdc.org petition, we called on DDOT to ramp up bike and scooter infrastructure to help address this issue: more bike and scooter lanes and more bike and scooter parking. With more vehicles on the way (probably anyway), this issue is even more pressing.

David Whitehead was the Housing Program Organizer at Greater Greater Washington from 2016 to 2019.  A former high school math teacher and a community organizer, David worked to broaden and deepen Greater Greater Washington’s efforts to make the region more livable and inclusive through education, advocacy and organizing. He lives in Edgewood.