Electric scooters and other shared-mobility devices will be allowed in Fairfax County starting next January, under an ordinance unanimously approved Nov. 19 by the Board of Supervisors, but some supervisors worried whether the devices would be safely operated or deposited properly for pick-up.
The ordinance permits the operation of such devices starting Jan. 1 next year. Supervisors had little choice in the matter, as state lawmakers had set that day as the deadline by which localities either would have to approve pilot programs or ordinances regulating the devices’ use, or allow providers to begin operations sans regulations.
“I think there’s no holding this back,” said Supervisor Daniel Storck (D-Mount Vernon) said of the shared-mobility-device trend. “We need to be embracing this. We need to look for ways to guide it, not stifle it.”
Under a motion advanced by Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville), who chairs the board’s Transportation Committee, the county initially will issue up to 300 shared-mobility-device certificates per provider and allow the issuance of up to 150 more per provider per quarter if the companies can demonstrate of their devices has been used at least three times daily over a three-month period. County officials will issue a maximum of 600 device certificates per provider.
By starting with a fairly low maximum number of scooters, county officials are trying not to let the program get out of hand during its first year, Foust said.
“Let’s not rush this thing,” he said.
The ordinance limits the devices’ speed to 10 mph on all riding surfaces and requires that they be equipped with brakes, bells and lights. While riders will be allowed to operate on public highways and sidewalks, unless prohibited by signage, they will have to obey the laws of the road, officials said.
Providers will have to be accessible around the clock every day to service and collect the devices, which must not be parked in ways that impede pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
County staff in early 2021 will provide supervisors with a data analysis of the program’s first 12 months, after which board members could make adjustments.
“We’re encouraging mass transit [and] public transit,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D). “This provides another mode of transportation for short distances.”
Speaking on behalf of the Tysons Partnership, Ronit Dancis of the Tysons Transportation Management Association said shared-mobility devices will advance the comprehensive plan’s goals to transform Tysons into a transit-oriented, walkable city.
“We view e-scooters as an efficient means to help increase Metro ridership and reduce single-occupancy-vehicle travel into, out of and around Tysons,” she said.
Dancis acknowledged that such devices may not work as well in less-urbanized parts of the county. A one-size-fits-all ordinance “will not be effective in meeting the very different needs of the county’s suburban, rural and urban areas,” she said. “E-scooters are particularly well-suited to address the ‘first mile/last mile’ problem in the more urban and Metro-accessible areas of the county, such as Tysons.”
Dancis relayed the Tysons Partnership’s concerns that a maximum fleet size of 600 devices per provider might not be enough to serve Tysons, much less the entire county. Partnership leaders also wonder if the 10 mph speed limit will be too restrictive and worry that e-scooter use on high-speed roads, such as Route 123 in Tysons, will prove a safety hazard.
Tysons Biergarten co-owner Paymon Hadjiesmaeiloo, who lives in Arlington, said scooter usage in that county has eased commuting woes and helped boost retailers’ sales.
“Including scooters to the community will only make things easier to access,” he told the supervisors.
Some supervisors were wary about the devices’ impact. Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) read an e-mail from a constituent who wrote that scooters had been “abandoned on sidewalks, private yards and paths through woods and neighborhood surrounding George Mason University.”
The resident’s e-mail continued, “While these devices are particularly useful in urban areas, they are quickly becoming a nuisance in the suburban areas within the Braddock District and should either be prohibited or restricted to the George Mason campus only.”
The board approved Cook’s follow-on motion to have county staff establish a process for fielding residents’ complaints regarding the improper use and abandonment of shared-mobility devices. The motion also required that county staff’s 2021 update include an analysis of complaints received and an update of the county’s coordination with similar programs offered in surrounding jurisdictions.
Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason) said some scooters had been dumped in her constituents’ yards and one had been dropped off at the Mason Governmental Center.
“We didn’t know what to do with it,” Gross said. “We couldn’t figure out who it belonged to or why it was there. I think there is a lot of opportunity here for mischief with these, and I’m a little concerned about that.”
Gross also related how scary it had been to drive near scooters in Washington, D.C., and said she’d seen a rider operating a scooter with one hand and looking at an electronic device in the other.
“I’m very concerned there will be some significant motor vehicle-scooter interactions that are not going to be positive,” she said.
Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) asked whether the county could prohibit more than one rider per scooter. County staff responded that state lawmakers had not granted that authority, but device providers often make riders consent to that requirement.