DC is growing its dockless bike and scooter program: We partnered with them to evaluate how it’s expanding access in underserved communities

Last week, Washington, D.C. announced that it was expanding its dockless bike and scooter program, one of the largest in the United States in terms of the number of companies in operation (Lime, Bird, Spin, Skip, JUMP, and Lyft, as well as previously ofo and Mobike).

DC’s New Dockless Bike and Scooter Permit Program

The new Washington, D.C. 2019 permit requirements increase the total number of vehicles per operator per vehicle type (bike/e-bike or scooter) to 600 vehicles and sets a minimum of 100 vehicles.

The previous permit allowed for 400 vehicles total (bikes or scooters). Over the past year, as electric scooters became more popular the U.S.-based bikeshare companies in D.C. (Lime and Spin) swapped out their bike fleets for scooters.

Under the new 2019 dockless program, companies would be allowed to apply for two permits (a bike permit and a scooter permit). There is no hard limit on the number of companies that can operate — the district can issue permits to all qualified companies.

While some have criticized the new permit as being too cautious, if D.C. has as much interest in their 2019 program as San Francisco did with the TWELVE companies vying to operate this year, there could conceivably be as many as 7200 scooters and 7200 bikes in Washington, D.C. proper.

Are These Services Expanding Equitable Access to Everyone?

A key issue concerning many cities as new mobility services arrive is whether these services are accessible to the entire population — including traditionally underserved communities such as low-income, minority, and other marginalized groups.

We partnered with the District Department of Transportation to support their efforts to assess the equitable distribution of dockless bikes and scooters in the district using Populus Mobility Manager, a platform that integrates real-time data feeds from major mobility operators of shared fleets (bikes, scooters, cars) with an easy-to-use interface for city policymakers and planners.

Populus Mobility Manager: Integrate Real-Time Feeds from All Mobility Operators Through a Single Platform

While some cities have a requirement for dockless operators to place a certain number or percentage of vehicles in certain geographies, they also recognize that operators have somewhat limited control over where their vehicles travel throughout the day. Populus Mobility Manger can evaluate where vehicles are placed throughout the day, but for equity evaluation purposes we primarily assessed the distribution of vehicles in the morning hours when they are first deployed.

In the figure below we present a comparison of the entire dockless bike and scooter fleet and the existing Capital Bikeshare fleet. (Note that the dockless data we used for the purposes of this analysis are only from the D.C. city boundary). What we found is that the dockless program overall provides greater micromobility accessibility across the entire city, and also specifically in Ward 8, which is traditionally underserved.

Populus Mobility Manager: Evaluating the Distance to Shared Bikes and Scooters By Geography

Assessing the Demographics of Users

The Populus team has been building software for cities to harness data to plan for the future of mobility for the past decade — and for the past six years, we’ve been evaluating the adoption and use of new shared modes such as carsharing, ridehailing (Uber/Lyft), and now dockless bikes and scooters through rigorous, statistically-based data collection efforts.

We used Populus Groundtruth, our data on the adoption and use of mobility services, to assess the adoption (and non-adoption) rates of the new dockless services and Capital Bikeshare. Here’s what we found based on a statistically representative sample of our data for D.C.:

  • Adoption rates for the new dockless services have surpassed the adoption rates of the existing Capital Bikeshare system across all demographics.
  • Black and African-American residents of D.C. (which represent 47% of the D.C. population) have adopted dockless services at a significantly higher ratio: 2.6 times more (versus 1.2 times more for white residents).
Adoption of Capital Bikeshare compared to dockless bikes and scooters

At a high level, what we found in Washington, D.C. is that these services appear to be delivering new options to communities that have been traditionally underserved, which should be celebrated. However, we also recognize that Washington, D.C. is a relatively small, dense city (68.3 sq. mi), with a large number of dockless operators. These trends may or may not apply elsewhere.

As new mobility services continue to expand, cities are requiring access to their data and trusted, third-parties such as Populus are developing robust software solutions to help the public sector set more data-driven policies, as well as harness better data for transportation planning (new scooter parking and micromobility lanes!)

Our report evaluating the D.C. dockless program, Measuring Equitable Access to New Mobility, is available for cities to download on our website.

Are you a city looking for new data, methods, and software solutions to transition to the future of mobility? Reach out to us at hello@populus.ai or join Populus and other cities on an upcoming webinar on mobility data-sharing and mobility data management best practices.

About Populus

At Populus, we’re helping cities and private mobility providers deliver safe, efficient, and equitable streets through better data. Our core platform, Populus Mobility Manager, integrates real-time data from multiple operators (shared bikes, scooters, and cars) for cities from coast to coast.

Founded by transportation PhDs from MIT and UC Berkeley who have been at the forefront of research on shared mobility and the future of transportation, the Populus team combines over 30 years of experience building software for cities and facilitating public-private partnerships for better mobility.