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Scoot Aside E-Scooters, Rental Mopeds Are Zooming In

Two riders in New York try out Revel mopeds.

Two riders in New York try out Revel mopeds. rblfmr/Shutterstock

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Cities involved in the pilot say the mopeds will provide an environmentally-friendly and affordable option for commuters. Some are worried about the safety implications, though.

The e-scooter empire spread into nearly every city in the country in the past year and a half, providing a fun way for people to zip around short distances, but also cluttering sidewalks and forcing city councils to create new infrastructure rules. But with top speeds capped somewhere between 10 to 15 miles-per-hour, and a (not always enforced) limit of one rider per scooter, the market has a hole for faster, roomier options.

Enter the moped.

Revel, a company that rents bright-blue electric mopeds, has appeared in two cities so far, first debuting in New York in June, and arriving this weekend in Washington, D.C. The 400 mopeds in D.C. just hit the city streets, but some have already raised concerns about safety and training for drivers, who may be unfamiliar with the rules of the road in a vehicle that falls ambiguously between a bike and motorcycle.

This isn’t the first time app-rented mopeds have appeared in the U.S. Last year, competitors of Revel brought mopeds to Atlanta and Pittsburgh, but in much smaller numbers, and in the case of Pittsburgh, they were removed after a few months when winter weather conditions made moped trips less feasible.

The D.C. Department of Transportation is now engaged in a four-month pilot program with Revel to assess whether mopeds will work in the city, putting several safety measures in place. The DDOT is requiring Revel to provide classes on how to operate the throttle and brakes on the mopeds, which have a top speed of 30 miles-per-hour. The classes take about 15 minutes and are offered seven days a week. Mopeds riders in the city are also required to have a driver’s license and wear a helmet.

Several other safety requirements have been implemented by Revel itself, preempting the need for city regulation. Riders must be 21-year-old, and have to pay $19 for a background check that looks for DUIs, reckless driving, and speeding tickets, all of which automatically ban a person from the app-based service. Two helmets (one for each potential rider) are provided and required for use—though they’re only cleaned every two to three days, and come with hairnets to prevent the spread of germs. The mopeds can’t go on highways, but are otherwise treated like cars or motorcycles, meaning they can’t use bike lanes or sidewalks and must be parked legally on the curb, though they’re exempt from meter fees and parking time limits (improperly parked vehicles can be reported to the city). 

The DDOT, in a statement on their website, said the pilot is meant to “increase the number of shared mobility options” in the city. “DDOT recognizes the importance of vehicle sharing to create equitable transportation access across the District and reduce reliance on single-occupant vehicles...The goal of this pilot program is to explore a new alternative to vehicle ownership, decrease congestion and reduce transportation-based emissions,” the statement reads.

Washington, D.C., with its frequent metro delays and traffic that has been ranked second-worst in the country, has been an obvious choice for micro-mobility companies. There are over 5,000 e-scooters already on the street, and with twelve more bike and scooter rental companies vying for new permits, that number could rise to over 16,000 by the end of 2019. 

Frank Reig, the CEO of Revel thanked D.C. for city officials’ willingness to take a chance on a mode of transportation that, while relatively new to the United States, is widespread in Europe and other parts of the world. “This could not have been done without the leadership and collaboration of DDOT and the entire District,” Reig said in a press release. “We share their goals of providing new, reliable transportation options that work seamlessly in the city’s current regulatory, transportation, and parking systems and help the District meet its aggressive carbon emissions goals.”

Revel is offering discounted rides to anyone enrolled in a state or federal public assistance program to make the transportation option accessible to low-income residents. Ordinarily, the mopeds cost $1 to start and 25 cents per minute afterwards if in use, or 10 cents per minute if they are reserved but parked. 

But even with those considerations, some are still fearful about the impact the mopeds will have on the city. E-scooters have been involved in a series of high-profile crashes recently, some of which were fatal, prompting city councils to sometimes revoke scooter permits. After four deaths in Atlanta, the city council voted to ban electric scooters on streets at night and is now considering a moratorium on future permits for scooter rental companies. 

Some are afraid mopeds will wreak similar havoc. The fact that training courses aren’t required for use (though they are recommended) is prompting further worry. “We are concerned about the dangers facing riders and other road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, on the streets of Washington, D.C.,” John Townsend, the spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in a statement. On Twitter, residents over the weekend raised similar concerns, with one person noting, “Just what DC doesn't need...inexperienced people riding mopeds in traffic.”

Even so, the majority of D.C. residents—and the majority of residents in most cities—still view e-scooters and other micro-mobility transportation options favorably, which Councilmember Brandon Todd said encouraged the city to participate in the moped pilot. “District residents have embraced the growing roster of public and private transportation choices for their commutes and trips throughout our community,” said Todd, who added that mopeds will bring another environmentally friendly and affordable transportation option to the city. 

“This partnership was a no brainer—Revels don’t require any new laws, infrastructure, or investment and I applaud the Mayor and her team at DDOT for being forward thinking and continuing to create a climate for businesses to thrive and grow,” he said.

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route FIfty. 

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