The DC government has twice extended an initial pilot program for dockless bikes and scooters without changing any of its initial rules, including a limit of 400 vehicles per company which we've argued was too restrictive. Now, for 2019, there's a new version of program with some more flexibility, but also many new rules.
On the cap, DC will now allow 600 bikes or scooters per company, up from 400. For companies that offer both, they will be able to treat bikes and scooters totally separately, with up to 600 for each. Further, if things are going smoothly, the District Department of Transportation will be able to grant an increase of 25% every three months.
Bikes will have to include locks which let them be connected to a rack or sign, like the current JUMP bikes do. JUMP is the only service offering dockless bikes in DC right now. Scooters won't need locks, but will have to contain technology limiting them to 10 mph, while e-bikes must be limited to 20 mph (possibly more downhill, obviously, but the motor won't drive it faster).
Companies will pay fees that amount to about $5 per month for each bike or scooter, plus annual fees that amount to about $500. They will also have to post a $10,000 bond against problems or companies abandoning the market and not cleaning up their vehicles.
Services have to offer ways for people to rent vehicles without a smartphone, and pay cash. They have to provide lower prices to low-income residents including "unlimited trips under 30 minutes to any customer with an income level at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines," and put vehicles in all eight wards by 6:00 each morning.
There has to be a public web service so smartphone apps and web tools and researchers can access information on bike and scooter locations, so, for instance, apps like Transit can show you where to get dockless vehicles. DDOT will get more detailed data including the start and end time and location of every trip, how long bikes or scooters are in service, and more.
"Why are we taxing and regulating it as if it's a nuisance?"
Our contributors generally feel dockless bikes and scooters represent a huge opportunity to help more people get around without driving, in a way that takes up less street space and pollutes the air less. As one contributor put it, "If dockless mobility is something we want, why are we taxing and regulating it as if it's a nuisance?"
Contributors were most frustrated by the continued low limits. "We wanted 20,000 right? This is like 15% of that? I don't think the other regs matter that much. This is setting this up to fail," said Nick Sementelli.
David Cranor said, "Not so long ago we had 2,000 dockless bikes. Why can't we start there at least?"
The split 600-and-600 will let companies that currently offer just one vehicle branch out into the other. Some companies only want to offer scooters right now because they make more money than non-electric bikes.
All non-electric dockless bike companies have left the DC market. Some, like Mobike and ofo, loudly proclaimed that they were leaving because of the 400-vehicle cap, though those companies, both based in China, also pulled out of North America entirely and weren't very good at cooperating with rules. However, Tracy Loh pointed out, there are still companies offering bikes in other cities.
While JUMP offers the lock-to requirement, other companies do not currently. One contributor, who couldn't speak on the record because they are not allowed to be quoted on this topic due to their job, said that at least one company would bring e-bikes into DC but can't meet the lock-to rule. Also, they added, there are still not enough bike racks in most areas of the city.
Other contributors argued that lock-to makes sense as a way to stop problematic parking jobs that generate complaints from residents. Certainly it's true that since non-locking bikes left the DC market, dockless bike parking has just not been a problem the way it was last fall.
DC is holding bikes and scooters to a higher standard than cars
Some contributors critcized the overall policy framework which puts so many rules on bikes.
Gordon Chaffin wrote, "There is no cap on cars that come in, come out, or stay in DC permanently with residents. Unless we apply some similar logic to cars, there will be tryanny of the automobile in DC."
Dan Malouff added, "while I can see the logic behind wanting to regulate companies like this, unless we regulate Uber and Lyft with similar provisions, we are absolutely exacerbating systemic biases towards car use."
Uber and Lyft now in fact operate dockless vehicles (Uber owns JUMP, and Lyft just launched scooters in DC) as well as their traditional car ride-hailing services, so DC's regulations are putting more of an onus on their sustainable bike-and-scooter services than the car ones.
DDOT would probably like to regulate the cars more as well, but can't because those rules are written into legislation. Similarly, there are rules I know officials would like to set up about private cars, except that's a much harder task.
But this is the point contributors are making. Government officials can regulate this new technology heavily because it's new and doesn't have the kind of base that driving does. But this new technology is also something we should want to encoruage to grow quickly, to let people get around without driving if they choose. We know people are choosing this, but often can't because vehicles are not available. The bigger public policy picture is still getting lost here.
He added, "Now we're going to 'learn' the lesson when it comes to dockless and more aggressively regulate. But why?"
A rebalancing rule is something I've suggested for some time. But, letting companies put enough vehicles on the street to meet demand will make it a lot easier to have some of them in underserved areas. And, companies can make enough money to pay for rebalancers, cash payment programs, and more.
Equity regulations make the most sense in the context of a larger program, like Seattle's which allows 5,000 vehicles per company.
I haven't gotten through all of the data sharing requirements, but requiring public APIs is an important practice which I've been pushing for since the beginning. The Transit app folks just published an article about the importance of open data in dockless services, and called out DC as a leader in this regard.
What do you think? DDOT is accepting comments until November 26. You can use the form below to submit your thoughts. If you want to remind officials that there are many of us who want 20,000 shared bikes and scooters in DC, send them a link to our petition: www.20kbikesdc.org.