It had to happen: scooters are coming to Falls Church. The latest development in alternative mobility devices, battery-powered scooters that can move a single passenger at up to 15 miles per hour in and around existing pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle traffic is already crawling all over downtown D.C. and increasingly, City of Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria.
The Falls Church City Council Monday night took up the matter of apropos regulation of the new mode of transportation with an eye to adopting terms of a one-year pilot program by Nov. 11 that could authorize them to operate in the City by January.
The State Legislature last spring gave localities the choice of setting their own regulations for operation of scooters and scooter companies or to wait and let state regulations apply if they were to choose not to act by Dec. 31. So, the City Council is facing a mild deadline to establish ground rules for a one-year pilot program and to select two of the seven companies that run scooters by mid-December.
The program is being called the Motorized Shared Mobility Demonstration Project and it extends from scooters to skateboards, bicycles or electric-powered assisted bicycles offered for rental to the public by the selected entities.
One of the biggest issues to come before the Council for deliberation this Monday is whether or not scooters will be allowed for use on sidewalks in the manner that Arlington County is expected to approve next month.
As Councilman Phil Duncan pointed out at this Monday’s Council work session, “I am disappointed that Arlington will allow scooters to be used on sidewalks. After all, sidewalks are called sidewalks for a reason. They are for walking.”
“It is great to have additional modes of transportation,” Councilman Ross Litkenhous remarked at this Monday’s Council work session. “But given the record of their use in other jurisdictions, there are a lot of safety and logistical concerns to work out.”
Among other things, what should the speed limit for the scooters be? The Council’s consensus is that while it may be up to 15 miles per hour on streets, or designated bike lanes, or on the W&OD trail, it should be only six miles per hour if use is permitted on sidewalks. Those are the limits operational in Alexandria now. Also, should helmets be required for use by adults (helmets are required under state law for anyone 14 or under)? What should the age limit for use be (it is recommended to be 16)? Will scooters users be allowed to also use listening devices? How many total scooters should be allowed in the City (the staff recommendation to date is for far more per capita than in surrounding jurisdictions). What kind of City staff involvement will be required to oversee the program (the City of Fairfax says it requires about a third of a full time position). What about where scooters are left once their use is over (and who will monitor and enforce this)? What about the use of scooters during emergency or severe weather conditions?
The City staff recommended that scooters “must be parked in a manner that does not impede pedestrian traffic, does not obstruct access to fire hydrants and valves, street furniture, crosswalks, the public right of way, or any public property, included but not limited to, public buildings, public parks or open spaces, public trails, driveways or private property, does not damage any property, including but not limited to landscaping, street trees or other aesthetic features, and does not interfere with traffic or bus stop operations or the operation and use of Capital Bikeshare stations.”
The staff recommends that the granting of permits to two scooter companies will require the keeping of records and the providing of monthly reports identifying the number of total active customers who reside in the City, the number of trips starting and trips ending, separately, in the City, average trip duration in minutes, average and total distance of trips, a map of trip route data for all trips starting, ending or passing through the City, crashes (giving time, date, location and number of parties involved), injuries (giving time, date, location and cause), number and location of scooters having to be towed, complaints received (with date, location and reason given) and other feedback received.
The recommendation of the City staff is that enforcement of the adopted terms and conditions of use will be a low priority for F.C. police.
The City staff prepared a detailed, eight-page, single-spaced report on what it suggests should be the essential contents of a new City policy to pertain to scooter use in the City that was available to the Council at its work session Monday. A fee structure would include $8,000 for a permit fee, a cash bond of $5,000 to cover any damage to the public and 25 cents per trip in the City.
Councilman David Snyder noted Monday that he feels the fee structure for licensing scooter use is way too low, and questioned the insurance requirements for both companies and individual renters.
He suggested the Council may not be ready to press ahead with a comprehensive pilot plan agreement by next month.