(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) Arlington is rolling out its promised pilot program to guide the use of dockless vehicles, clearing the way for more companies to offer electric scooters and bikes in the county.
County officials have been mulling how best to regulate dockless vehicles since Bird started offering its scooters in Arlington this June without any warning to the local government. Now, the County Board is set to approve a program requiring companies to register with the county to avoid similar surprises, while also capping the number of vehicles they can deploy in Arlington.
The nine-month program limits companies to operating a total of 350 vehicles each within county limits. Under its terms, any business looking to deploy dockless scooters or bikes will have to pay the county $8,000 for an operating permit, and would then be able to operate a fleet of 200 vehicles. The companies could then apply to increase the size of the fleet by 50 vehicles each month, up to the 350 cap, so long as it can demonstrate that each vehicle is recording at least six trips per day.
Those strictures are similar to D.C.’s own strategy for managing dockless vehicles, which the District put in place last year and caps companies at 400 vehicles each. Transportation advocates in the region have been especially critical of those limits, with some companies ditching D.C. due to the caps, and county staff noted in a report prepared for the Board that the county’s own Transportation Commission “recommended that the demonstration refrain from capping numbers of devices.”
.@ArlingtonVA's shared mobility pilot program which is on the Board's "consent agenda" on Saturday (for non-controversial items) would more than halve the # of scooters @BirdRide can have in the County from what it has now. https://t.co/lSJl2oXOit
— Chris Slatt (@alongthepike) September 20, 2018
“This proposal retains what staff considers a reasonable cap, reflecting other community input,” staff wrote. Bird started off its deployment in Arlington with 50 scooters, staff wrote, but the company has declined to release exact numbers on how many vehicles it’s since brought to the county.
Staffers added in the report that county officials consulted with some “vendors” last month to gauge their thoughts on the design of the program. Lime, in particular, has spent months working with local business leaders to ensure a more favorable regulatory environment in the county, while Skip, the third dockless scooter company operating in D.C., has also signaled an interest in expanding to Arlington.
Staff also wrote that they fully expect that this pilot program could encourage the remaining dockless bike companies operating in D.C. — Spin and Jump — to start operating in the county as well.
Additionally, the program clarifies that there is no helmet requirement for scooter riders, the county plans to bar anyone younger than 16 from using the scooters, and that the scooters can’t be used on county sidewalks, without some policy tweaks. The policy also adds that both scooters and electric bikes won’t be permitted on county trails.
“While there is enabling authority for localities to ban electric scooter riding on sidewalks, it does not grant localities authority to affirmatively allow such riding,” staff wrote. “Thus, to enact an ordinance authorizing electric scooter riding on sidewalks would require a legislative change.”
The county is also planning on collecting community feedback on all manner of dockless vehicle issues, and will require the companies themselves to regularly turn over ridership data, which can then be released publicly.
The Board first has to sign off on the policy at its meeting Saturday (Sept. 22). It’s currently slated to be considered as part of its consent agenda, generally reserved for non-controversial items to be approved as a block, though it can be pulled from the consent agenda at the request of Board members.
Arlington is now gearing up to officially embrace dockless bikes and scooters, even though some scooters have already arrived in the county.
County officials have spent the last few weeks mulling how to respond to the sudden appearance of dozens of Bird’s dockless scooters around Arlington in late June. Though the county did receive some advance warning from the company that it planned to start operating in Arlington, County Manager Mark Schwartz and the county’s legal team weren’t sure exactly how to react to Bird’s arrival.
Some communities have even chosen to take legal action against dockless vehicle companies that start operating without the local government’s consent, but the county announced in a statement today (Thursday) that staff determined there “are no regulations currently in place that would prohibit the operation and use of these devices in Arlington.” The county doesn’t have any regulation prohibiting the scooters on sidewalks, but it does ban “motorized vehicles” from county bike paths, which would include the scooters.
Moving forward, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet told ARLnow that officials are planning to unveil a “pilot demonstration project” to test out all manner of dockless vehicles this fall.
Much like D.C.’s current pilot program, Balliet says he envisions the effort helping to “provide structure to the deployment, operation and use of scooters and dockless bikes within the county and to evaluate the overall performance and gauge the impacts of these mobility devices.” He says the current plan is to deliver a framework for that effort to Schwartz and the County Board for approval this September.
Should the county design a program similar to the District’s efforts, dockless companies like Bird would be able to partner with the county to participate in the pilot. Lime Bike has already been working with the Crystal City BID, as it eyes the county for expansion. Skip’s CEO also says his company, the third dockless scooter outfit operating in D.C., is interested in Arlington.
Balliet did not immediately provide details on what form the pilot program might take, but County Board member John Vihstadt says he’d be broadly receptive to clearing the way for more dockless vehicles to become available around Arlington.
“New methods of mobility are something we need to embrace,” Vihstadt said. “Some people will say, with the greater consumer choice one has with mobility, is that undercutting the Metro system or our bus system… but I think they can work together. If people have to get to to the Metro, or get to the bus stop, we can utilize these other modes of personal transportation.”
In the meantime, the county is urging anyone using dockless vehicles around Arlington to be considerate of other drivers and bike riders. The county also released a new tip sheet today with suggestions on the best ways to use the scooters, while officials hammer out a more detailed policy.
Between Bird and the other dockless companies currently operating in D.C. and Maryland, the county estimates that roughly 100 dockless vehicles pop up in Arlington each day.
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.”
Dockless electric scooters have now made their way to Arlington.
The electric vehicle company Bird scattered dozens of its scooters across the county on Sunday (June 24), becoming the first company to offer the vehicles in Arlington. Bird’s operated in D.C. for the past few months, in addition to several other electric bike and scooter “ride sharing” firms like Lime and Skip.
Company spokesman Nick Samonas says Bird scooters are now available in Ballston, Clarendon, Crystal City, Pentagon City and some areas along Columbia Pike, and he noted that “as ridership grows, the company will expand its fleet to serve all of Arlington’s residents and communities.”
“As Arlington rapidly develops, it’s clear there’s an urgent need for additional transit options that are accessible, affordable and reliable for all residents and local communities,” Samonas wrote in an email. “Birds are a great solution for short ‘last mile’ trips that are too long to walk, but too short to drive.”
— Bird (@BirdRide) June 24, 2018
Anyone hoping to use the scooters needs to download the company’s mobile app, then use it to find an available scooter. The app then guides would-be riders through the process of piloting the scooter, parking it and, of course, paying for the ride. Bird charges a base fee to “unlock” each scooter, then assess an additional fee based on how long riders use the vehicle.
Samonas declined to discuss how many scooters the company has made available across Arlington — though a quick scan of the app Monday morning shows more than 50 scooters around the county — but he said the company will only add more vehicles “when each is being ridden three or more times per day.”
Spokesmen for Lime and Skip, the other dockless scooter companies operating in D.C., didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on whether they plan to follow suit and expand to Arlington. As of Monday morning, Lime’s app does show one scooter available just outside Crystal City; Skip’s scooters, meanwhile, remain on the other side of the Potomac River for now.
— Crystal City (@crystalcityva) June 24, 2018
Roosevelt Island, Gravelly Point to Get Bikeshare — The County Board approved a deal with the National Park Service to allow Capital Bikeshare stations on Theodore Roosevelt Island and at Gravelly Point. Although the stations are on NPS land, the county will install and maintain them. [Arlington County]
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Tree Canopy Dispute Grows — Environmental activists have intensified their cries about the county providing misleading information on the size of Arlington’s tree canopy. Activists confronted County Board members at their Saturday meeting, armed with claims of “alternative facts” and a “war on science.” [Inside NoVa]
Outstanding Park Volunteers Honored — The County Board gave awards to Joanne Hutton, John Foti and Friends of Aurora Highlands Park for their efforts to support county parks and natural resources. The honorees have led service projects, helped to expand field use and promoted public open spaces. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
Arlington may get two new Capital Bikeshare stations, at Roosevelt Island and Gravelly Point.
The County Board is set to approve a “memorandum of understanding” with the National Park Service, which has to approve the bikeshare stations since they would be located on NPS land.
The approval would further the goal of an expansion of the bikeshare network along the Mt. Vernon Trail.
Responsibility for the installation and maintenance of the bikeshare facilities on NPS land would fall on the county, according to the memorandum. It also restricts any advertisements on the stations, and sets requirements for site preservation and, should the stations be removed in the future, restoration.
The office of the County Manager has recommended that the memorandum be approved at Saturday’s County Board meeting (April 21).
The influx of app-based alternatives to Capital Bikeshare appears to have reached Arlington County.
A reader sent in the above photo of a Spin Bikeshare bike parked near a Capital Bikeshare station in Arlington. Spin is one of four new alternatives in the D.C. metro area.
Spin requires you to download a smartphone app, and uses your phone’s GPS to locate a nearby bike to use.
They are dockless – unlike Capital Bikeshare, which requires you to leave it at a designated station – but have locks that immobilize the bike until someone checks it out using the app. Spin costs $1 per half hour of riding, and can be parked “anywhere responsible,” according to its website.
Photo via Sean K.
The two page list shows proposed station locations, broken down by area. Among the areas that might get new Bikeshare stations are Shirlington, Arlington Cemetery and numerous neighborhoods along Columbia Pike.
Each of the 40 entries is accompanied by an aerial and a ground level photo of the location. Public comments about the proposed stations are being accepted via the online map, or by emailing [email protected]
BikeArlington’s Chris Eatough stresses that the locations listed are still preliminary, but the public feedback will help to devise the final list, which should be released sometime in the fall.
Although some residents have offered suggestions for stations in outlying areas, organizers say that doesn’t work with how the system is set up. The overall plan involves adding more docking stations in areas that already have Bikeshare, then gradually expanding outward. Because users need to dock bikes frequently, new stations wouldn’t be useful if they’re positioned far from existing stations.
“If you don’t have alternatives close by, people can get stranded, basically,” Eatough said. “We have to connect to the existing network.”
Eatough says devising the list is just part of the extensive transportation planning process that’s been ongoing since early this year. While continuously collecting public comments, there have also been numerous meetings and work sessions to come up with a longer term comprehensive plan for Bikeshare in Arlington.
“We do feel like we’ve done our due diligence and outreach, and continue to do it,” said Eatough. “For a bike sharing program, this is pretty groundbreaking stuff. Nobody has a long range plan for bike sharing in the country right now.”
The program has only been around for about two years, but much effort is spent on helping the public to consider it a legitimate mode of public transportation. In becoming more recognized and validated, the hope is to bring in additional funding sources.
Even though expansion of the program has been explosive and the stations are well used, the newness of Capital Bikeshare means there’s still some confusion about how it works. For example, Eatough says some people initially think it might be a good idea to rent a bike for a few hours to get some exercise or see the sights. However, the program is actually intended to be a point-to-point option for short trips and commuting. Regular users quickly learn that keeping trips to 30 minutes or less is the most cost-effective way to do bike sharing, based on the current pricing system.
“If you want exercise or to go on the trails, those kind of longer trips are really not the purpose of Capital Bikeshare. Users can make a series of trips all day long and if each one is 30 minutes or less, then you’ve got several useful trips and that’s of no additional cost. That’s why we put docking stations all over the place,” Eatough said. “It’s kind of a new way of getting around, so there is a learning curve for people.”
The long term plan for Capital Bikeshare is just one of the several biking improvements getting praise in Arlington. Eatough also pointed out the county’s recent widening of certain bike lanes and painting portions of bike lanes green.
“They’re all just a sign that our streets are evolving little bit. Whether you’re driving or biking or walking, everyone has interactions and has their role to play in these interactions,” Eatough said. “We have to help each other. It’s really about people rather than mode.”
Right now, it’s unclear when the dozens of new Bikeshare docking stations will be installed. Once the list of proposed stations is finalized, there’s a permitting process, and the County Board has to give approval. After that, the stations can typically be installed at a rate of three per day, and only take about two hours to get up and running.
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Bike Sharing System Named, Minor Controversy Ensues — It’s like the 2000 election all over again. After asking the public to vote on a new name for the recently-announced Arlington-D.C. bike sharing system, Arlington County and DDOT decided to ignore the name that got the most first place votes — “George” — and go with the name that got the most first, second and third place votes — “Capital Bikeshare.” Some blog commenters have been bemoaning the choice of a generic, non-interesting name, but hey, at least officials took the time to explain why Capital Bikeshare is a better name than George, right?
Combat-Ready Tech Coming Back to Marine Corps Marathon — FLIR Systems, the company that develops the infrared cameras you’ve probably seen if you’ve ever watched one of those car chase shows, is going to showcase some of its military tech at the Marine Corps Marathon in October. The technology, which is also helping to keep Marines safe in war zones, will be placed throughout the course. It will allow authorities to track any “situation” during the long race. It will also provide a live video feed of the race leaders.
At a Bike to Work Day event at Gateway Park in Rosslyn, Fisette called the program “a great system to help us promote cycling and promote health in Arlington.”
Initially launching in Crystal City this fall, the Arlington-DC bike share system will feature 1,100 bikes that will be available for rent at docking stations located primarily around transit centers. Bike usage will cost $5 per day or $80 for a year. Fisette said the county hopes to eventually expand the system to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.
County officials say the program will be similar to successful bike sharing systems in Montreal and Paris. Like Montreal, the Arlington and DC will use bikes with enclosed chains and brake cables, built by Quebec-based BIXI.
The program will be funded by the county and by state and federal grants. Some of the operational funding will be provided by the program’s own revenue.