Dockless electric scooters only popped up in Arlington for the first time last weekend, but it seems like a sure bet that more are on the way.
Lime Bike is eyeing the county for its next expansion of its dockless scooter service, after starting up operations in D.C. last fall. The company even teamed up with the Crystal City Business Improvement District to offer free scooter rides for people walking along Crystal Drive today (Thursday), as part of a bid to build community support ahead of an eventual rollout in Arlington.
“You can’t just serve the District and expect to offer a transportation solution for the entire region,” Jason Starr, Lime’s D.C. general manager, told ARLnow. “But we don’t just want to operate without some good will and support from residents and businesses alike… While, yes, we do want to operate in Arlington, one thing we really pride ourselves on as a company is working with jurisdictions to create a viable source of support for this.”
Starr makes this point, in part, to draw a contrast with Bird, another dockless company in D.C., which first deployed its scooters in Arlington on Sunday. County transportation spokesman Eric Balliet says that county officials “did receive a heads-up” from Bird about its plans, at least, but he added that the county is very much weighing how to react to Bird’s sudden arrival.
“We will be having discussions with the county manager and the county attorney’s office on how to respond to their deployment in Arlington,” Balliet wrote in an email.
Some cities have chosen to take legal action in response to such tactics by the scooter companies. For instance, Santa Monica sued Bird over its failure to secure necessary business licenses and permits, while San Francisco has temporarily banned all electric scooters in the city as it hammers out a new permitting process.
Balliet says county officials have “met informally” with the various dockless vehicle companies in the region, in part to avoid any such conflict. In fact, Balliet says the county’s commuter services bureau is crafting a draft policy to govern how all manner of dockless vehicles can be used around Arlington.
He’s hoping that will be ready for presentation to County Manager Mark Schwartz and Transportation Director Dennis Leach by September, who will then be able to provide “guidance on next steps,” such as deciding whether the County Board will need to review the document.
Starr suggested that part of the county’s reticence to take action on a more formal policy just yet could be that officials are waiting to see how D.C. handles its ongoing pilot program with dockless vehicles, which is set to run through August. However, he stressed that he doesn’t think that’s “totally necessary,” considering the willingness of companies like Lime to work with the county.
Even with Bird’s arrival in Arlington, Starr doesn’t expect to change the company’s plans to work hand-in-hand with Arlington and its business community, however.
“There’s naturally a reason to act quickly, but I don’t want to do that at the expense of making sure we have a relationship with everyone here,” Starr said. “If we get the sense that this is something people are in favor of, that will be a natural time to approach Arlington and say, ‘We want to start operating the service now,’ but right now we’re still in the early phase.”
Yet it seems competition in the county is only set to increase in the coming weeks.
The head of Skip, the third dockless scooter company currently active in D.C., says their conversations with the county have been “incredibly positive” and hinted that Skip would also be interested in Arlington.
“We plan to invest in the local community and be a responsible partner in Arlington just as we’ve done in D.C.,” CEO Sanjay Dastoor wrote in an email.
Rob Mandle, chief operating officer of the Crystal City BID, expects that any competition among the dockless companies will only be healthy for Arlington.
He sees offering a full range of transportation options, dockless vehicles included, is crucial to attracting businesses to area. After all, companies tend to follow the demands of their potential workers, Amazon included, and young professionals are increasingly clamoring for the scooters.
“Mobility solutions is what top talent looks for,” Mandle said. “So if you don’t have those solutions, then you are at a competitive disadvantage.”