ROCKVILLE – The City of Gaithersburg’s mayor and council held a work session on April 29 on the locations of Capital Bikeshare racks and were briefed on the county’s upcoming electric scooter pilot.
City officials announced plans to have two racks of Capital Bikeshare bikes installed as a pilot — one at Rio Washingtonian Center and one in Downtown Crown — on a date to be determined. A few jurisdictions in the county already have Capital Bikeshare stations installed.
Council Member Laurie-Anne Sayles asked why Capital Bikeshare was not considered for other locations, like the MARC station or Lakeforest Mall, which has a nearby bus station. Deputy City Manager Dennis Enslinger said part of the decision was based on the desire of having the bikes to be near existing bike-share docks, as in Rockville.
Enslinger added that they picked locations where they believed people would feel comfortable riding the bikes.
Riders likely would not feel comfortable riding bikes along State Highway Route 355, in which cyclists may use a full lane on the roadway, he said.
“We wanted to start smaller and look at what was adjacent to us and what might be more reasonable for the standard trips,” Ensligner said.
Enslinger said bike-share programs work best with a dense population. Without one, residents will use them infrequently — hindering the city’s ability to make revenue as well as to cover the fee for the bikes and bike racks.
The council had discussed the two locations of Capital Bikeshare in the past; Enslinger said the last time the mayor and council discussed Capital Bikeshare was in 2017.
Enslinger said county staff is still working on their memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Montgomery County for the city’s Capital Bikeshare pilot. The county might be able to cover part of the cost of the bikes.
Also during the city council meeting, Special Assistant to the County Director of Transportation Gary Erenrich briefed the mayor and council on its future e-scooter pilot. Erenrich said county staff is working through feedback on an MOU with some electric-assist scooters (e-scooters) companies.
“We continue to get feedback on terms and provisions, as with any MOU with vendors,” Erenrich said after the meeting.
An individual with a smartphone and a credit card would be able to rent an e-scooter for their use. Adding e-scooters will be the next phase of the county’s electric assist vehicle pilots with the second phase including e-bikes. One of the recent pilots consisted of e-bikes in Bethesda and Potomac.
It may be a few weeks before county officials announce the start date for the e-scooters for rent. While the county is not the organization providing the e-scooters, it must sign an MOU with the vendor companies about terms of operation before the electric vehicles are placed online.
Enslinger said the county would like to roll out dock-less scooters countywide in the coming weeks, and he wanted to know whether the council wanted e-scooters to be piloted in the city. If they did not want to be a part of the program, the county could have Gaithersburg geo-fenced out. That way, if someone finished a scooter trip within city limits, no one could take a subsequent trip on the same scooter in the city.
Enslinger said he recommends that the council not have the city geo-fenced from e-scooters because if multiple scooters are left improperly parked in city limits, it could pose as a nuisance for residents.
Council members did not say they opposed having the pilot in the city, but the mayor and council did give direction to city staff during the meeting.
“The Mayor and Council directed staff to work on finalizing the MOU with the county for both the Capital Bikeshare (docked) and for the dockless bikes/scooters,” Enslinger wrote in an email.
Mayor Judd Ashman said that he supported having the county e-scooter pilot include Gaithersburg, though he does not have voting power on the council.
E-scooters would not have an upfront cost for the city, but it would be required to pay a fee for having Capital Bikeshare to pay for the bike rack rent.
Ashman asked about the possibility of having just the e-scooter pilot and no bike-share.
“Budgetary-wise, it’s less of an impact,” Ashman said.
Erenrich said the two services work together, and that staff recommended Capital Bikeshares, even though it is “expensive” to install.
On the county position, the plan is to have four e-scooter vendors sign the MOU. Staff have not publicly named the four companies or signed an agreement with those companies nor has the county announced a date for the start of the e-scooter pilot.
Erenrich said that based on a survey in Baltimore City, people tended to use the e-scooters to travel for entertainment and dining. He said he believed the city’s selected locations for the Capital Bikeshare pilot docks of Downtown Crown and Rio Washingtonian Center are therefore suitable. E-scooters have recently become prevalent in parts of downtown Washington, D.C., and other cities in the United States.
The maximum speed of various brands of dock-less e-scooter is 20 mph. Erenrich said the county’s MOU asks for the maximum speed to be 15 mph, however.
Sayles asked who would be liable in case someone were to be injured while riding an e-scooter.
“Many jurisdictions are writing into their agreements with the vendors who are providing (e-scooters) … a liability provision” said city attorney Lynn Board.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is conducting a study in Austin, Texas, studying injuries caused by riding on an e-scooter. Up until this year, the state of Maryland had no legislation that specifically applied to the e-scooters the county wants to pilot. During this year’s legislative session, the General Assembly passed a law that defined e-scooters and where people may ride them. The laws that apply to bicycles, starting in October, will apply to e-bikes and e-scooters as well, except that they may not be ridden on sidewalks. The exception would be if the local jurisdictions’ rules and regulations say otherwise about sidewalks.
Attorney Board said city regulations were recently changed to allow bicycles on sidewalks, and that under current regulations, e-scooters would be allowed on sidewalks as well.