Washington, D.C., is dealing with increasing concerns about traffic congestion and searching for greener transportation options. Unfortunately, new regulations set to govern one of the most promising new local transportation innovations will limit the public’s ability to get around the city, leaving us with fewer options.
This is especially frustrating because D.C. had been positioning itself as a leader in transportation innovation. While many have complained about the failing Metro, the past year has brought plans for driverless car testing and many micromobility options like dockless scooters and bicycles, which can be picked up and dropped off anywhere. Much of this innovation came about because the District initially took a refreshingly hands-off approach, and consumers quickly gravitated toward newly available ways to explore the city.
With relatively few hurdles, entrepreneurs and innovative companies like Bird, Lime, and Jump brought dockless scooters and bikes to the area. In the first nine months, the District’s Department of Transportation reported that they had been used by more than 55,000 people on over 140,000 trips. When you can pick up and drop off a scooter wherever you need to at an average cost lower than the typical Metro ride, it’s easy to see why.
But now new regulations set to go into effect in January may put the brakes on all these improvements. These new rules, announced after nearly a year of various pilot programs, are quite distinct from the initial hands-off approach. They require dockless devices to deploy in all eight wards in order to receive a permit. They would also require that rentals accept cash payment, offer non-app-enabled rental options, limit speeds, and cap the number of scooters that can be deployed.
The rules’ backers have focused on two noble goals — equity and accessibility. But their underlying belief that the scooters are just a fad for the well-to-do is misguided. In fact, a recent survey by the mobility analytics platform Populus found that while a majority of people at all income levels had a positive view of the scooters, people making between $25,000 and $50,000 were the most likely to view them favorably.
With the new rules come added costs that may limit the next wave of competitors — which may be safer, more innovative, or more affordable for D.C. residents — from entering the market. In addition to the permitting fee and $10,000 bond with the city, these new regulations will also require dockless entrepreneurs to develop new payment acceptance technology and change the speeds of their devices to effectively create a D.C.-specific product.
With an increasing likelihood that several thousand more residents will move to the D.C. area for Amazon’s HQ2, this is certainly not the time to discourage entrepreneurs from coming up with better ways to address mounting transportation woes.
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