While Charlottesville pilots regulations for bike- and scooter-sharing, one company has been chosen to begin operations.
Lime, a California-based company, presented its electric scooters and electric-assist bicycles to city officials and members of the public on Nov. 29, approximately two weeks after submitting its permit application. The permit was approved Friday, and the bikes and scooters were spotted in Charlottesville on Monday.
The city had begun to look at regulations for dockless bikes and scooters after receiving a business license application in August. Staff presented the pilot program to councilors during the Nov. 5 City Council meeting. The program would help the city learn whether bike- and scooter-sharing services would aid the city in reaching its transportation goals, city staff said.
“A number of communities are embracing this new technology as part of the transportation network, but many are also learning that it can become … burdensome if unprepared for their arrival,” the staff report states.
The pilot regulation period began Nov. 13, and Lime paid the pilot permit fee of $500 on Nov. 12. Additionally, the total number of bikes and scooters allowed under the pilot is limited to 200 between all permitted companies. The company also is in talks with University of Virginia about the bikes and scooters operating on Grounds, said Maggie Gendron, Lime’s director of strategic planning.
Lime, founded in 2017, operates in 13 countries and in Harrisonburg and Arlington County in Virginia. Its rates are $1 to unlock the bikes and scooters and then 15 cents a minute. Users typically unlock and terminate rides through a mobile app. However, the company offers Lime Access — a 50 percent discount and the option to pay in cash — to people who demonstrate eligibility or participation in state or federal assistance programs.
With Lime Access, a potential rider also does not need a smartphone but will need an email address to enroll. Once entered into the program, users will receive a code that will allow them to pay in person at stores that host PayNearMe stations and then unlock a bike or scooter through text or the Lime app.
“It’s a way for unbanked and folks with flip phones … [to] access our products without a credit card or an iPhone,” Gendron said.
Despite assistance programs like Lime access, studies have shown a dearth of bikeshare riders who have lower incomes or riders who come from communities of color. A 2016 survey conducted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s Commuter Connection program concluded that bikeshare users did not mirror the adult population of the D.C. area.
“Bikeshare members were disproportionately Caucasian when compared with the regional employee population; African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians all were underrepresented, compared with the regional employee population,” the survey, presented in the 2016 Capital Bikeshare Member Survey Report, states.
Educator and urban planner Charles Brown said in a Nov. 28 presentation in Charlottesville that people of color often are not aware of bikesharing systems.
“Even though bikeshares are coming into your cities, whether it’s in the university or outside, most African-Americans don’t even know this system exists,” Brown said.
“Why? Because the bikeshare systems you are engaged with don’t do efficient outreach and engagement to these communities. They go into your central business district first and to those populations, and the blacks and Hispanics, etc. are not involved,” he said.
A study from Portland State University in Oregon, “Breaking Barriers to Bike Share: Lessons on Bike Share Equity,” found that 56 percent of lower-income people of color who were surveyed had “no idea” about details about the cost of using the system, and 63 percent were unfamiliar with reduced-price memberships.
“Findings suggested that lower-income respondents, and particularly lower-income people of color, faced multiple barriers, with cost (48 percent said this was a “big barrier”), liability (52 percent) and payment concerns (37 percent) at the top of the list,” the study, published in the February edition the journal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, states.
To get the word out about its programs, Gendron said in an email, Lime is “always looking for local partners for us to link up with to get the word out.” That work includes having representatives at community events and entering partnerships.
“We work a lot with our advocates in the community,” she said at a presentation in Council Chambers.
Regulations for rides
In crafting its draft regulations, Charlottesville officials reviewed ordinances from cities such as St. Louis, New Orleans, San Francisco and Richmond.
Companies operating in some of those areas, such as California-based Bird, got off to rocky starts when they dropped their scooters into communities without agreements with localities. Other issues include complaints about vehicles blocking sidewalk access, being abandoned and being vandalized. After confiscating scooters around the city, saying they blocked rights of way and were in violation of the city’s code, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney proposed a pilot program allowing Bird’s operation after it paid fees based on the number of scooters deployed.
The city has several regulations already in place. The electric scooters are prohibited from riding on the sidewalk, per state code, and both the scooters and bicycles are barred from the Downtown Mall through a city ordinance already in place. The vehicles also will encounter geofencing, an area barred to them through location-based services. The Downtown Mall perimeter set begins at Water and Market streets, city staff said, giving users ample time to avoid entering the area.
“We’re trying to educate people on it,” Gendron said, adding that the app gives constant reminders about general rules and alerts users of restricted areas.
The scooters will slow down once in a restricted area, but the current iteration of the bikes will not. But the scooters will not lock in a restricted area and remaining in the zone may come with a fee.
“The responsibility is on the rider. … We are not going to be able to prevent people from doing what they want to do,” Gendron said.
If people constantly display bad behavior, they can be banned from Lime, she said.
As the vehicles do not have docking areas to place them once a ride is complete, Lime also constantly reminds users about appropriate places to leave the bikes and scooters. In some areas, such as places with high traffic or narrow sidewalks. Lime sets up preferred parking areas that can come with rewards, such as a refund of the $1 unlocking fee, Gendron said. The company tries to keep its parking aesthetically pleasing and its crews often patrol to make certain the bikes and scooters are in appropriate places, she said.
“Something might be appropriately parked, but people might be annoyed because it is new,” Gendron said.
Peter Krebs, of the Piedmont Environmental Council, raised concerns about how the bikes and scooters would be policed when people who are unfamiliar with the rules of the road use them.
“How do you work with other localities to prevent that from being another way to create disproportionate contact [with police]?” he said.
“We have an open dialogue with law enforcement, and we tell them about the technology and how it’s used and the purpose of it and the age restrictions, etc. … We give them our direct contact information,” Gendron said.
In Maryland, she said, police give talks about the rules and reminders of age restrictions. In general, Gendron said, police have had a positive response to Lime and understanding of the situation and rules.
Staff typically collect all of the bikes and scooters by 9 p.m. for recharging, and patrol teams look for community hot spots to replace them in the morning.
“The batteries in a lot of cities, about 60 percent of the fleet, is off the road by 7 p.m. … They’re heavily utilized,” Gendron said.
The pilot program for the regulations ends July 19, and the city manager will have the opportunity to extend the period before making recommendations on permanent regulations or terminating it. If the city manager terminates the pilot period early, the bikes and e-scooters must be removed from city rights of way within five business days.
For more information about the pilot program, visit www.charlottesville.org/dockless.
Updated at 1:33 p.m. Dec. 10, 2018, to reflect Lime beginning operations.