Pentagon Declares War on Scooters

Dockless scooters are show in D.C. in April. Dockless scooters are show in D.C. in April. bakdc / Shutterstock.com

The Pentagon hates your little scooters, too.

In fact, DoD would like you and your ride-sharing company to know that if you leave your rental scooters or shared-bicycles anywhere on Pentagon property, they will be impounded, right quick.

Last week, Pentagon police in one day found seven abandoned, stand-up style motorized scooters around its property. It’s the latest example of the vehicles showing up unwanted all over Washington, from office doorsteps to the Lincoln Memorial.

The perpetrators are not the Vespa-style scooters of "Roman Holiday" — those are welcome, and really, who doesn’t love those? And they’re not the indoor three-wheeled scooters used by Pentagon employees needing mobility assistance around the massive building. Rather, we are talking about the stand-up kind of scooters used mostly by children, like the wooden one stolen by Marty McFly in “Back to the Future” before he turned it into a cool skateboard — except these are built for grown-ups and motorized. Washington citizens nettled by the zippy sidewalk-and-street vehicles have dubbed their riders “scooter bros.”

Rental scooters are part of a new trend of “dockless” transportation, emulating the popular bicycle-sharing programs popping up in cities all over the world. You find a nearby scooter with its smartphone app, pay a fee, and take a ride. When you’re done, someone else can grab the scooter for another ride, or, eventually, the scooter company will pick it up for charging.

Their fans say scooters can go faster than bikes and are more convenient than their docked cousins. One leading scooter-rental company, Lime, told The Verge that it logged 6 million rides in its first year, and is now expanding to 70 cities. In Washington, residents, commuters, and tourists use them all around town. They’re especially popular for uphill trips into northwest residential neighborhoods or around tourist attractions. Riders are encouraged to park their scooters near a bike rack, but often simply abandon them. Anywhere.

“We have noticed abandoned scooters around the Pentagon Reservation during the last several weeks,” said Christopher Layman, a spokesman for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency. The nuisance reached its peak after last week’s September 11 anniversary, when the Pentagon Memorial attracts additional visitors.   

“On the morning of Sept. 12, 2018, seven scooters belonging to the Bird scooter company were found abandoned in various locations around the Pentagon Reservation. The scooters were collected and the company was called to retrieve them. They collected them the same day,” Layman said.

Over the summer, Santa Monica-based Bird placed 50 scooters in Arlington County, Virginia, without prior authorization from the county, according to Washington Business Journal. “Bird scooters have shown up in Pentagon City, Shirlington, Clarendon and Rosslyn,” neighborhoods that surround the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, the paper reported. Bird officials told the Journal that they have since spoken with county officials and filed the appropriate paperwork to start a local business.

The Pentagon sits on a 200-acre federal installation called the Pentagon Reservation, that is overseen by the Defense Department and which includes several supporting buildings and the Pentagon Memorial. It also hosts the largest transit stations in northern Virginia, with a major Metrobus hub above ground and the Blue and Yellow subway lines below.  

“The Pentagon Reservation is not an authorized location for these companies to allow their customers to leave scooters or bicycles unattended. The Pentagon Force Protection Agency informed the Bird scooter company that if more were found in the future, we would impound them,” Layman said, in an email.

What’s unclear is whether Pentagon security officials consider scooters a potential threat, an actual problem, or just a nuisance. The Pentagon enforces strict rules on the 20,000-plus workers who pass its doors on a typical day and the roughly 100,000 annual visitors for building tours. Photography and drones are prohibited and parking is restricted to authorized vehicles. There are bicycle racks for Pentagon employees, but no docking stations for rental bikes or scooters.

A spokesman for Bird told Defense One, in an email, “The area around the Pentagon is a 'no-ride zone' visible in the Bird app. We encourage our riders to avoid it and have taken steps to ensure Birds stay within approved areas. Bird also collects any vehicles left in no-ride zones, or wherever they are parked, as part of our Save Our Sidewalks Pledge. We respect local and federal authorities’ role in enforcing all traffic and parking rules."

Scooter companies like Bird are negotiating with cities and local municipalities across the country over their tactics, existence, and regulation, including in Baltimore, Maryland, where officials complained how the company introduced their scooters first, then sought permission later. Last month, a Baltimore Sun reader wrote in to complain, “I’m disgusted city officials allow Bird Scooter to run a for-profit company in my community without a permit. During the War of 1812, Baltimore held off the British fleet at the Inner Harbor. Today, Baltimore can’t hold off a fleet of electric scooters on Pratt Street. What a disgrace.”

The scooter war drawing most attention this summer was in San Francisco, which three weeks ago awarded one-year permits to two smaller companies, snubbing Lime, Bird, and offerings from Uber and Lyft. The firms Skip and Scoot will be allowed to operate 625 scooters each.

With the rise of stand-up scooter popularity has also come injury. Several media outlets have chronicled a steep rise in scooter-related emergency room visits this summer.

For now, if you want to get to the Pentagon, you’ll have to do it like everyone else. Take a bus, take a train, or try the old-fashioned way: enlist.

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