Alexandria, VA – Notice anything different? For one thing, the streets and sidewalks have been a little more crowded since the Alexandria City Council approved a nine-month dockless mobility program last fall. But while council will review and potentially renew the program this August, the downsides of the electric scooters – like no policing of rule-breakers and piles of spent machines along roadways and street corners – have many Alexandrians hoping it will come to an end.
“We have certainly heard quite a bit of input from residents,” said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, who has yet to try out a scooter. “As the pilot concludes we’ll determine whether this is an effort that can be appropriately managed to move forward, or whether we’ll choose to end the program.”
The city issued $5,000 individual permits to Lime, Lyft, Jump (which operates e-bikes), Bird, Bolt, Skip and Spin to operate within the city, limiting the number of scooters from each company in the city to 200 e-scooters or e-bikes apiece. Users download the app, type in their credit or debit information, scan the bike with their phone and they’re off! Many companies (with the exception of Lyft and Bolt) require a driver’s license in order to ride.
The scooters have also drawn the ire of many Alexandrians, who have destroyed them and thrown them in bushes and trash cans. An all-too-common sight nowadays is to see photos and videos on social media of lawbreakers and piles of discarded and spent scooters.
An Issue of Enforcement and Resources
The scooter pilot project is being administered by the city’s department of transportation and environmental services, and Alexandria Police Chief Mike Brown said that his department has received a “considerable” number of responses and strong feedback from the community. He also said police have been notified to enforce traffic laws and hand out tickets and warnings to riders breaking rules, including those riding under the age of 18, those riding on the sidewalk, on park trails and leaving them on private property.
“We’ve seen incidents of, shall we say, placement of these vehicles in different places other than whats prescribed,” Brown said. “In other words, in a docking stationer or assigned locations. That’s the responsibility of the company that owns that equipment according to the MOU (memorandum of understanding). They’re suppose to remove it, take care of it, but we’ve seen pictures of them in backyards or on private property. That’s kind of outside of the purview of the police.”
Brown said that scooter violators can be difficult to apprehend, since riders can quickly disappear. He also said that Virginia does not have a coding process or key for motorized scooters, and all enforcement activities must be done by hand.
“This is a new type of device, this falls under our new type of vehicle that doesn’t have its own separate codes,” Brown said. “Not everyone’s following that law, which causes us some concern. That’s one of the reasons why it just this week, we reiterated the enforcement action and the you know, thing and encouraged officers to go out and take enforcement action for observed violations. … And so we’re trying to pull up exactly what we’ve done in that respect since the beginning of the pilot project. It’s going to take us a while to do it.”
How It Works
The concept is brilliant – for the users. Take the Lyft scooters, for instance. For 15 cents a minute, riders can travel up to 15 miles per hour all over the city. When they’re finished they can leave the scooter on the sidewalk and then go about their business. Sometimes days later, “juicers” – folks who charge the scooters in their private homes for a fee to the scooter company – pick them up.
Attorney Matt Harris is the president of the Colecroft Community Homeowners Association, which is made up of 135 homes near the Braddock Road Metro Station. The HOA recently amended its bylaws requiring all neighborhood residents to park e-scooters in one central location. Harris would like more restrictions against the scooter companies participating in the program, or for it to de dropped altogether.
“This morning I was running on Cameron Street pre-dawn and I had to run on the road because the sidewalk was packed with scooters down by the King Street Metro,” Harris said. “I’ve seen many kids on them without helmets not obeying the rules and not riding on the sidewalks.”
Leah Balinas hasn’t tried the scooters, but likes them.
“The people complaining are making such a big deal out of it. I think the scooters are great, especially when you’re in a hurry,” Balinas said. “With the weather like this you can really enjoy yourself, and it’s very accommodating because you can park it wherever you want.”
What’s your opinion of the Alexandria’s Dockless Mobility Program?