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Peter’s Take: How Should Arlington Regulate Dockless Vehicles?

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

ARLnow.com reported last week that Arlington County plans a pilot program for dockless vehicles.

Spokesperson Eric Baillet “told ARLnow that officials are planning to unveil a ‘pilot demonstration project’ to test all manner of dockless vehicles this fall.” Baillet believes this will help to “provide structure to the deployment, operation and use of scooters and dockless bikes within the county… and gauge the impacts of these mobility devices.”

Baillet says county government plans to present a framework for County Board review in September.

Board member John Vihstadt is quoted as saying he’d be “broadly receptive to clearing the way for more dockless vehicles to become available around Arlington.”

A pilot program for dockless vehicles

Dockless vehicles present some of the same and some different challenges for municipalities compared to earlier iterations of the mobility sharing economy like Uber and Lyft. (Uber and Lyft now also are in the dockless vehicle business.)

What can Arlington learn from other municipalities?

Pilot programs for dockless vehicles in other municipalities

Other municipalities already have pilot programs. They include:

Washington DC

DC’s pilot program was launched in September 2017 and was recently extended through August 2018, WTOP reports:

Seven private companies are currently operating dockless bike and electric scooters in the District. The bike companies are Jump, Spin, ofo and Mobike. Waybots and Bird operate electric scooters. LimeBike has both scooters and bikes.

Complaints since the pilot program began have been largely about where the bikes and scooters are being left — often in the middle of sidewalks or on private property.

San Francisco

San Francisco (SF) has established a 12-month pilot program under which up to five permits may be granted. For the first six months, a total of 1,250 scooters may be permitted. If the first six months go well, the total may increase to 2,500 in months seven through 12. The increase is tied to how well permitted operators meet the standards set out in their permits.

Under the SF pilot program, per the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency:

[O]perators [will] need to provide user education, be insured, share trip data with the city, have a privacy policy that safeguards user information, offer a low-income plan, and submit a proposed service area plan for city approval. Operators will also need to have a plan in place to address sidewalk riding and sidewalk parking, which may include measures like locking scooters to bike racks.

[SF] is looking to the companies themselves to develop robust user education so that their customers know how to properly ride and park the scooters.

Denver

The goals of the just-launched pilot program in Denver are described here.

Virginia state law on dockless vehicles

Since Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, Arlington will need to determine the scope of its existing power to adopt a pilot program (and regulatory framework).

One relevant existing state law is § 46.2-908.1 of the Virginia Code which enables local governments like Arlington to regulate some aspects of dockless vehicle operations.

Is every desirable aspect of the pilot program (and regulatory framework) Arlington might like to adopt currently authorized under Virginia state law?

Conclusion

A carefully-designed pilot program (and regulatory framework) for dockless vehicles is a good idea.

Dockless vehicles have great potential, but also pose significant risks.

Arlington should adopt a pilot program (and regulatory framework) that maximizes the potential and minimizes the risks.

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