Our View: Policing scooters should not fall to residents

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Photo credit: Missy Schrott
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“We have been very clear from the beginning of the pilot that residents should contact the companies,” Yon Lambert, director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, wrote in a May 3, 2019 e-mail to an Alexandria resident who had complained about scooter violations.

That response, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with Alexandria’s scooter pilot program.

It most emphatically is not the responsibility of residents to ensure that scooter companies and riders are complying with state code, city regulations and the city’s memorandums of understanding with scooter companies.

The city let the proverbial fox into the henhouse that is Alexandria’s treasured Old and Historic District. It’s up to our local gatekeepers to either keep the fox in line or expel him from our midst. The hens can’t control the fox.

That response from Lambert, whose department oversees the scooter pilot program, was part of a package of e-mails between city officials, scooter companies and the public that were obtained by the Alexandria Times in a Freedom of Information Act request. Look for more Times stories and commentary on this topic in the coming months.

We appreciate that our local government is in a difficult position regarding scooter companies, which invaded this region – and cities throughout the world – mostly uninvited. Like many new technologies, the appearance of scooters left localities scrambling to determine whether they should be allowed, and, if so, how they should be regulated and policed.

The FOIAed emails show that City Manager Mark Jinks in particular seems sensitive to concerns raised by local residents and the negative impact that scooters are having on many Old Town residents.

This pilot program is still very much a work in progress, and we believe that our local leaders mean well and are trying. But city officials still need to come up with enforceable plans to:

• Protect the safety of scooter riders and pedestrians.

• Prevent the aesthetic eyesore of scooters parked on historic neighborhood sidewalks.

• Ensure that the scooter companies themselves, not Alexandria taxpayers, are paying for city personnel to enforce safety and livability concerns.

Regarding safety, the Times and the city have received many reports from residents of scooter riders operating illegally and unsafely. These include reports of underage riders, people riding in tandem, riding on the sidewalk, riding through parks, riding on the bike trail and riding without helmets.

Just last week, a middle-aged rider was involved in an accident in Old Town, sustained a head injury and was transported to G.W. Hospital in D.C. for treatment. A city statement asserts that alcohol may have been involved. The desire for more vibrancy along Alexandria’s waterfront, which includes an increase of watering holes, seems to be potentially deadly when mixed with scooter usage.

Scooters continue to be strewn throughout Alexandria’s neighborhoods like trash – in flower beds, in parks, sometimes toppled, sometimes blocking the sidewalk and sometimes hindering handicapped drivers from accessing their cars.

Let’s not pretend this is going well. The city needs to either hold scooter companies and their riders accountable for code and MOU violations themselves or else ban them from Alexandria.

Two things are clear: Alexandria has not yet come up with a workable plan for how scooters should operate in our city. And the current policy of passing responsibility for policing scooter companies to residents is both untenable and offensive.

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