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Two New Guides Address Dockless Vehicles

While 2018 brought public outrage (and eventual bans) of dockless electronic scooters (e-scooters) to places like San Francisco and Santa Monica, Washington State municipalities have had an easier time. In 2017 Seattle piloted a Free-Floating Bike Share program, with standard pedal bikes and e-bikes, but this idea (and the bikes themselves) soon expanded into neighboring locations like Bellevue, Mercer Island, Bothell, and Kirkland. So far, none of the aforementioned jurisdictions have broadened their programs to allow e-scooters, and Seattle has outright banned these for the moment, but Tacoma and Spokane both welcomed e-scooters in their pilot programs.

Bikes have always been easier to regulate than scooters, as issues that can be problematic—such as where these are allowed within the right-of-way (ROW)—are often already addressed in a municipal code. With the passage of Senate Bill 6434 in 2018, e-bikes became easier to regulate since the bill added three levels of e-bike classification based on engine speed, which then determined where the e-bike could be operated.

E-scooters are generally not addressed in municipal code, except for the motorized scooters used by people who are nonambulatory or have difficulty walking, but these vehicles are worlds away from the e-scooters being championed by bike share companies like Uber and Lime. Spokane’s recent 2-month bike share pilot program allowed Lime to distribute bikes, e-bikes, and e-scooters throughout the city. According to reporting on, the e-scooters were:

…the most popular with nearly 110,000 rides, averaging around seven rides each day. The second most popular was the E-assist bikes with nearly 21,000 rides, averaging about four rides each day. Pedal bikes came in last….averaging two to three rides each day.

Regardless of the type of vehicle offered in any bike share program, similar complaints and concerns are often repeated across locations: Vehicles parked inappropriately and/or blocking the ROW, helmetless riders, reckless riders, more than one person/vehicle, etc. Fortunately, two reports came out late last year offering municipalities some guidance based on lessons learned from early adapters of bike share programs. This blog will summarize some of the main points of agreements between the reports.

Guidance from Transportation Officials

Produced by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), the Guidelines for the Regulation and Management of Shared Active Transportation offers a comprehensive overview of all aspects of municipal public policy and authority with regards to dockless vehicles. Almost half of the 41-page guide is devoted to comparing how various cities have approached dockless vehicle regulation, whether proactively or in reaction to a fleet that’s already been deployed on their streets. Included among the samples are Denver, Chicago, Washington DC, New York City, Minneapolis, and Seattle.

Fundamental issues are explored, from fleet size and vehicle distribution, to access to the ROW, to program fees. Of interest is a section devoted to Community Engagement and Equity Programs (pages 19-20), where the guide looks at various approaches cities can take to ensure dockless vehicle programs are open and equally available to all residents.

The Lawyer’s Perspective

Another guidebook is available from the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA).  At just 14 pages, the Guidance for Regulation of Dockless Micromobility addresses many of the same themes as the NACTO guide and highlights what municipalities should be addressing in order to mitigate risk when integrating dockless vehicles into the existing infrastructure.

Points of Agreement

Both the NACTO and IMLA guides address broad topics, such as the permitting model, program oversight, data standards, and ROW regulation/parking. Here’s an overview of some points of agreement within each area.

The Permitting Model

Items to address under this topic include:

  • License timeframe and fees: will the fees be per program, per vehicle, or both?
  • Will there also be fees to cover use of the public ROW and public infrastructure?
  • Will the municipality develop policies that specifically define dockless vehicles and address where each (scooter, bike) can operate?
  • Will the program limit the number of participating companies? Who will develop the RFP and selection and evaluation criteria?
  • Will the vehicle fleet size be set by total vehicles, per company, per vehicle (bike, e-bike, e-scooter) or some combination of factors?

Program Oversight

Some items to address under this topic include:

  • Program administration and approval needed for permits
  • What is the program evaluation criteria and how will the program end (e.g. by date or sunset provision)?
  • Costs to cover overhead associated with enforcement; administration; compliance; data collection, management, and protection; permitting; and potential costs to upgrade infrastructure
  • Contracts that require companies to keep vehicles well-maintained and, if possible, limited to or relocated to specific, agreed-upon areas
  • How to make it easy for the public to communicate with companies (and the municipality) to report problems related to vehicles, riders, or the parking/location of vehicles
  • Additional public/private opportunities to address safety issues and other public concerns

Data Standards

Some questions to address under this topic include

  • What data should be provided to the municipality, how often, and in what form?
  • What data, especially that on vehicle use, should be made public and by whom?
  • How will companies ensure customer data privacy both during and after vehicle use?
  • Will the program also include a third-party partner (research institute, university) who will receive, analyze, and store public data for research or reporting purposes?

ROW Regulation and Vehicle Parking

Questions to address under this topic include:

  • How do dockless vehicles fit into existing zoning regulations?
  • Where should vehicles be parked, and will this require infrastructure upgrades?
  • Where in the public ROW can the vehicle be operated? And by whom?
  • What type of penalties will be enforced for riders who misuse vehicles?
  • What type of penalties will be enforced for companies that fail to comply with contract terms?
  • What type of incentives can/will the municipality offer participating companies to comply with program expectations and to encourage additional goals, such as equity programming?
  • How will the municipality and the company educate the riders on proper vehicle use?

A final point of agreement between the guides: Participating bike share companies must hold insurance and indemnify the municipality.

Questions? Comments?

The points listed above should be viewed as a start for any municipality considering a bike share program. And, since the referenced guides are free and easy-to-read, both should be explored for additional insight; in particular, NACTO’s comparison of existing bike share programs across the US.

If you have thoughts about this blog post, please comment below or email me. If you have questions about this or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772. 

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

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About Leah LaCivita

Leah joined MRSC as a Communications Coordinator in the fall of 2016 and manages MRSC’s blog and webinar training program, in addition to developing website content.