Arlington officials say the first month of the county’s dockless vehicle pilot program has largely gone smoothly, though enforcing rules about where to ride the pervasive electric scooters remains a challenge.
Two companies — Lime and Bird — have been offering their dockless scooters around Arlington ever since the County Board signed off on a “demonstration project” for the vehicles in late September. Though Bird previously operated in the county without any explicit government involvement, the Board’s pilot program was designed to set some standards for dockless vehicles and allow companies to operate hundreds in the county at a time.
County commuter services bureau chief Jim Larsen told the Transportation Commission last Thursday (Nov. 1) that two more scooter companies could soon enter Arlington as well: Skip and Lyft, which only recently began offering scooters in addition to its ridesharing service.
Then, by January, Larsen expects that Jump could also make the move from D.C. into Arlington and offer both electric bikes and scooters in the county.
“The dynamics of this change weekly, if not daily,” Larsen told the commission.
Larsen added that, since Oct. 1, county police have responded to a total of nine crashes involving scooter riders, though he noted that there’s been “nothing major” among the accidents so far.
Still, one of those incidents did involve a student riding a scooter who was struck while in a crosswalk, Larsen said. The scooter companies generally ban anyone under the age of 18 from riding the vehicles, and Larsen said the county is working closely with the school system to make that clear to students.
Larsen also noted that the top public complaints the county has received about the program relate to “illegal sidewalk and train riding, improper parking, unsafe riding, underage riders and speed.”
Those were concerns echoed by Transportation Commissioner Audrey Clement, who noted that she’s seen teenagers riding scooters without helmets on the Custis Trail in the past, which would make for three violations of the county’s policies.
“There’s no way you could even ask Arlington Police to monitor the length of the Custis Trail or any of the trails in this county,” said Clement, who is also mounting an independent bid for School Board this year. “Absent a realistic enforcement policy, this pilot program is both reckless and irresponsible.”
Larsen conceded Clement’s point, but did stress that county staff are working closely with both the dockless companies and police to ensure the safety of riders and drivers alike.
County police, meanwhile, also trying to spread the word about scooter safety as part of a broader traffic safety campaign this fall, and have even started using electronic signs reminding scooter riders to stay off sidewalks.
Others on the commission were less willing than Clement to attack the program’s legitimacy. Commissioner Jim Lantelme was interested in comparing the number of scooter-involved crashes to those involving bikes, noting that they “might actually be safer than bicycles or other methods” of getting around. Larsen, however, didn’t have such data available.
By and large, commissioners said they were satisfied with the program’s early results, and Larsen agreed. He noted that Bird and Lime have both done a “pretty good job” of balancing the number of scooters available in D.C., which has its own dockless pilot program, and Arlington.
Larsen praised Lime, in particular, for employing 21 people to monitor the scooters around the county and operating its own warehouse in Arlington.
“They’re really trying to go around and self-police,” Larsen said. “We’re really trying to push the operators to emphasize safety themselves.”