Over 200,000 trips have been made on e-scooters in Alexandria this year, but a sticking point with local officials is equitable access to scooters throughout the city.
Now the City Council is considering pushing scooter companies to ensure more scooters are available in parts of Alexandria outside of Old Town and Del Ray.
At an update on Alexandria’s dockless mobility pilot program — a fancy name for electric scooters — at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, city officials noted the concentration of scooters in just a couple of areas.
“It seems more like we’re following a company’s model than focusing on equity across our community,” said Councilman John Chapman. “Our focus, for folks here on the Council, is to make sure all of our residents have the same opportunity. That’s not happening for docked and dockless mobility.”
With scooters becoming an increasingly prevalent transit option throughout the region, Chapman and Council Members Mohamed “Mo” Seifeldein, Canek Aguirre, and Redella “Del” Pepper pushed for requirements that scooter companies improve the equitability of access.
“If there’s a way to hold the companies accountable so that they are making sure to place scooters in different parts of the city, whether that’s by the Berg, Arlandria, the West End or the Beauregard corridor, I want to see that happen,” said Aguirre. “There’s no reason 99 percent of them should be in Del Ray and Old Town. It should be in other places because people have mobility needs across the entire city, not just in certain places. We, as a city, are looking to build out infrastructure to help that.”
There was recognition on the Council from Chapman that the business model incentivizes companies to concentrate most of their scooters in the busiest parts of town.
“I know that goes in the face of many of the business models for these companies, but as we experiment we need to focus on what the theme of our government is, which is equal access,” Chapman said. “I want to see us make a pretty significant change in what we’re willing to accept from these companies.”
In the update to City Council, staff said that the average trip on a scooter is about one mile and lasts about 14 minutes, for an average cost of $4.20 per trip. Pepper said she’s seen some scooters across the West End, but in much smaller numbers than Old Town.
“There are increasing numbers of these scooters, but not like you’ll find in other areas, particularly of course in Old Town,” said Pepper. “But maybe that’s because there’s no station; there’s no way where you can get ahold of one.”
Pepper said Landmark could eventually be a good destination for scooters, but that in the meantime there are plenty of commercial and residential centers that would benefit from scooters.
“I was wondering if a place like Landmark could have a place, although the population that might be using them might not care to walk to Landmark to pick one up, particularly since the duration of use is very short,” said Pepper, “but there are other places, like shopping centers, that could easily accommodate this kind of station. I’d like to see more of that kind of thing.”
City staff is recommending that the frequently controversial scooter pilot moves into “Phase II” and be extended through December 2020. Part of this extension would involve giving the city the ability to more tightly manage the program and set new regulations for the scooter companies, said Hillary Orr, deputy director of Transportation and Environmental Services.
Orr also noted that as the regulations tighten, the number of scooter companies operating in Alexandria is likely to dwindle.
Final recommendations are scheduled to go back to City Council for approval in November, followed by negotiations and discussions with the scooter companies in December before the second phase of the pilot launches in January.
“There are a lot of moving targets with this program,” Orr said. “Technology is changing, companies are changing — it’s a new form of mobility, the legislation’s changing and we’re all just really trying to keep up.”
Scooter photo by Jay Westcott, graphic via City of Alexandria