Residents and visitors of the City of Fairfax can now traverse the municipality using an electric scooter after the city launched a year-long pilot program on July 8.
Approved by the Fairfax City Council on May 14, the program allows shared mobility devices, including “dockless” shared bicycles, e-bikes, and e-scooters, to operate within the city as city officials determine the technology’s potential impacts and how best to regulate it in the future.
“We are excited about the opportunity to provide a new mobility option in the City of Fairfax,” Fairfax City Transportation Director Wendy Sanford said. “We are encouraging users to proceed cautiously and be safe in the use of the scooters, but we're excited about this new program.”
The City of Fairfax decided to consider a pilot program for electric scooters after the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in February giving localities the authority to regulate the operation of companies that provide motorized skateboards and scooters for rent.
H.B. 2572 also amended the Code of Virginia to state that, if a locality does not adopt a licensing ordinance, regulation, or other action by Jan. 1, 2020, motorized skateboards, scooters, and dockless or electric-powered bicycles can be deployed without formal regulation.
Shared mobility devices, which are bicycles or scooters rented for a single trip, first cropped up in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area in the fall of 2017 when the District and Montgomery County, Md., both launched pilot programs for dockless bicycles followed by the introduction of scooters in the spring of 2018.
Fairfax City partnered with Fairfax County, the Town of Vienna, and George Mason University in April 2018 for a study evaluating the feasibility of installing and operating a bikeshare program in the area from the Washington and Old Dominion Trail in Vienna to Mason’s Fairfax campus.
Arlington County and the City of Alexandria became the first jurisdictions in Northern Virginia to start e-scooter pilot programs in the fall of 2018.
The company Lime started deploying electric scooters around Fairfax County on Mar. 22, but the county has yet to implement a formal agreements or regulations regarding dockless scooters.
Fairfax County has introduced 35 Capital Bikeshare stations in Reston, Tysons, Merrifield, and Falls Church since October 2016, and the company added about 80 e-bikes to its fleet on Sept. 5 as a part of a three-month pilot program.
E-bikes differ from regular bicycles, because they use batteries to help power the pedals, making it easier for riders to go uphill and travel long distances.
Fairfax County transportation staff presented a proposal for regulating electric scooters to the Board of Supervisors during a transportation committee on Tuesday, but a board vote on the program is not scheduled until December.
The county’s proposed scooter program would limit companies to 250 scooters with a maximum speed limit of 15 miles per hour, though privately owned facilities such as the Mosaic District or Reston Town Center would be allowed to impose their own requirements.
Fairfax County’s proposal sounds much the same as the pilot program that the City of Fairfax is now implementing ahead of the deadline for e-scooter regulation set by the General Assembly.
“We can establish limits on the number of scooters and the way that they operate in the city,” Sanford said. “Without a pilot program in place, we would not have the ability to do that.”
After the city council approved the shared mobility devices pilot program, operators were given about a month to apply for permits with a June 1 deadline. The city received applications from Lime as well as the e-scooter companies Bird and Spin.
Under the pilot program, the three companies are allowed to deploy up to 250 scooters each within city limits, and they are responsible for overseeing their own fleets, along with paying a $5,000 permit fee and a monthly usage fee of 5 cents per trip to the city.
The revenue from the permit and usage fees will offset the cost to the city of administering the pilot program, according to Sanford.
Vendors are also required to share data that they collect on scooter usage, trip length, accidents, and other activities with the City of Fairfax, which will use the information to figure out whether to extend the pilot or to design a permanent shared mobility devices program in the future.
Users locate and access the scooters through the individual companies’ mobile phone apps, and questions or complaints about a specific ride should be directed to the company, not the city, Sanford says.
E-scooter companies generally charge a flat fee of $1 per trip with 15 cents added for every minute the scooter is rented, including time when it is not in use but has been reserved during a stop, according to City of Fairfax multimodal transportation planner Chloe Ritter.
While not required, Fairfax City is encouraging scooter riders to wear a helmet, and they are subject to the same laws as bike riders, including staying on the right side of the road, following the direction of traffic, yielding to pedestrians, and using hand signals to communicate turns.
The City of Fairfax does not allow e-scooters or e-bikes on sidewalks or walking trails, but they are permitted on the road and in bike lanes.
Ritter recommends that users leave their e-scooter beside a bicycle rack when done and ensure that it is not parked in a way that blocks the sidewalk, crosswalks, doorways, or anywhere else that someone may want to access.
The pilot program will help the City of Fairfax work with vendors to determine where the scooters are in high demand and to designate parking areas accordingly, Ritter told the city’s monthly Cityscene publication.
Fairfax City’s size could make it an ideal location for e-scooters, Sanford says.
“Scooters are a good way to encourage people to travel those short lengths without necessarily getting into their cars,” Sanford said. “We're hoping that scooters can be a good new alternative, one of many to utilize to get around the City of Fairfax.”