Scooter riders in DC by BeyondDC licensed under Creative Commons.

DC Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chairs the Committee on Transportation & the Environment, proposed a bill today that would ban dockless bicycles and scooters from being used between 10 pm and 4 am, sets rules for where they can be parked, and gives DC more power to regulate and fine operators, among other updates. Broadly, the bill “directs the director of the Department of Transportation to create rules governing electric mobility devices.”

The Electric Mobility Devices Amendment Act of 2019 has some good elements, like raising the speed limit and allowing e-bikes on trails and sidewalks, but it also has some parts that seem unrealistic, like the separate 6 mph max speed when scooters are on the sidewalk, and otherwise unnecessarily restrictive, like the late-night ban.

When introducing the bill, Cheh noted that e-scooters are a “relatively new phenomenon” in the District that have benefits such as easing congestion, reducing the city’s carbon footprint, and offering an affordable transportation option. But “the benefits come with significant costs,” she continued. For example, “discarded scooters routinely block pedestrian walkways, private driveways and handicap-accessible ramps.”

Here’s more about what her bill would do:

  • Bans the use of e-scooters from 10 pm to 4 am.
  • Requires operators to remove scooters from the “public right-of-way” (aka sidewalks) during that period.
  • Requires companies to operate a 24-hour phone number to take complaints, with a three-hour max window to remove offending vehicles.
  • Bumps up the max speed of scooters to 15 mph on streets and bicycle paths, and sets it at 6 mph on sidewalk. It’s not clear how this sidewalk-specific speed limit would happen. It also says that speeding may result in a fine, but no fine is created at this time.
  • Requires e-scooter riders to use the bike lane whenever one is present.
  • Requires electric scooters to have a speedometer, and both e-bikes and e-scooters must have taillights and headlights.
  • Requires companies to spread out their fleet of scooters across the eight wards — namely, 10% in each ward by 6 am
  • Operaters can only have a fleet of fewer than 600 vehicles per type, which must be maintained to national standards, and it caps the District total at 15,000 dockless vehicles
  • Companies must educate users on laws and rules, and require them to show a photo ID before renting
  • Limits advertising on the devices
  • Sets rules for when companies can expand (have more than two trips per vehicle per day) and when they must contract (have fewer than one trip per vehicle per day).
  • Creates an e-scooter parking pilot and defines legal parking, including no parking on federal land
  • Requires operators to give data to the District on use and complaints

Why regulate scooters more than cars and bicycles?

A lot of the bill is designed to regulate the shared-mobility business for e-scooter companies like Bird and e-bike ones like Jump. However, many of the rules also seem to apply to personally-owned e-bikes and e-scooters, and it’s not clear how intentional this is. For example, the parking rules barring parking on federal land would mean no one can park their own e-bike at a bike rack on NPS land, and State Department employees wouldn’t be able to park their own vehicles at work.

One of the most controversial parts of the bill is the scooter ban between 10 pm and 4 am. Mount Pleasant ANC Commissioner Chelsea Allinger wrote on Twitter,

I’ve been out of town & about to leave again, I’m behind, but I’m seeing tweets about a ban on scooters after 10pm. What?! As a woman, scooters are my fav late night method of getting home. Take me right to my door, cheaper than cab/Lyft, avoid walking down dark streets. Research has shown women spend more on transportation to get ourselves home safely at night. We don’t feel/aren’t safe walking. It’s INCREDIBLY frustrating to see one of the cheaper options taken off the table, if I’m correctly interpreting my quick glance at my feed.

Women (disproportionately — also others) don’t feel/aren’t safe walking home at night. We spend more $ to get home safe. This is continually treated as an afterthought in discussions about safe streets and transportation options, instead of as a major equity issue worth solving. Taking scooters off the table as a late-night option is a transportation equity issue for women and others who are at disproportionate risk when walking late at night.

Here’s what some of our contributors have to say about the bill:

Canaan Merchant points out that it’s already hard to get around late at night,

The nighttime restriction is just bad. There’s already dearth of late-night transit options. So why take away more especially when there’s no operating cost for the city to maintain? For all the crowing about how these things ‘litter’ sidewalks, seems like zipping down the road at night when there are fewer people out seems like less of a risk.

Daniel Warwick says we still need safer streets:

I like the requirement to place e-mobility vehicles in more places across town. 10% in each ward as proposed in the bill is probably too much and will cause undersupply in Wards 2, 1, and 6 where the vehicles are most often used, but the current 6 vehicles in each ward is too few. Wards probably aren’t the best way to design equitable placement of vehicles, but that’s another conversation.

Increasing top speeds for scooters from 10 to 15 mph is good, reducing to 6 mph on sidewalks is probably also reasonable though I’m not sure how vehicles will be able to tell what kind of surface they’re on. Ultimately if we really cared about getting scooters off the sidewalk we would design safer streets with protected bike lanes (scooter lanes?) rather than cap speeds for people on the sidewalk because they don’t feel safe on the street.

This would limit the number of scooters in DC to 15,000 when we were advocating for 20,000. Let’s get it up to 20,000!

The night prohibition is absurd. While WMATA is piloting a program to reduce $3 from a Lyft car trip for late night commuters, members of the Council of the District of Columbia are suggesting banning the use of Lyft scooters during the time period when transit is worst. If anything, dockless vehicles are most useful overnight!

Nick Sementelli is also not a fan of the late night ban,

I would say almost 50% of my scooter trips come post 10pm. That’s exactly when bus and Metro are less frequent and I’m less willing to walk longer distances. Additionally, my local Bikeshare stations are often full at that time of night. The direct result of a night-time ban will be to increase my use of ride-share, costing me more money and bringing all the negatives of increased car-trips on city streets.

Nor is Dave Murphy:

Most scooters are charged at night, so there is already a dearth of scooters overnight. It is becoming an important last-mile transit option, further reducing it at night doesn’t strike me as a benefit to anyone except drivers who don’t want to deal with scooters on the road.

Plus, other restrictions like removing the scooters completely from the public right of way each night seem almost impossible and unnecessary.

Others are worried about the potential for abuse with the mandated 24-hour hotline—not to mention there’s no such thing for offending cars.

Why are we restricting these devices more than we do cars, which actually kill people? Even if we’re just looking at vehicle-sharing services, we don’t limit the number of Zipcars in the city or ban them from the road at midnight, nor do we regulate Capital Bikeshare so strictly either.

The bill also defines new classes of devices. Scooters come out of “Personal Mobility Devices,” and e-assist bicycles come out of “Electric Mobility Devices.”

“Electric scooters” have handlebars, an electric motor, and a maximum speed of 15mph. If you have a device like that that goes faster than 15mph, then it’s still considered a “Personal Mobility Device” and you’re allowed to ride it—but not faster than 10 mph.

“Battery-assisted bicycles” have a battery that assists the rider up to 20 mph. A bicycle that goes faster than that would be considered a motor-driven cycle (same as now). Both of those vehicles go into a group called “Electric Mobility Devices.”

Readers: What do you think of the proposed regulations?

David Cranor is an operations engineer. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and former Texan (where he wrote for the Daily Texan), he’s lived in the DC area since 1997. David is a cycling advocate who serves on the Bicycle Advisory Council for DC.

Julie Strupp is Greater Greater Washington's Managing Editor. She's written for DCist, Washingtonian, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, and others. You can usually find her sparring with her judo club, pedaling around the city, or hanging out on her Columbia Heights stoop.