NACTO Releases Guidelines for Regulating and Managing Shared Active Transportation
July 26, 2018
Earlier this month, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) released preliminary guidelines for cities as they prepare to accommodate “shared active transportation companies” – including dockless bike- and scooter-sharing companies – on local streets.
Shared active transportation companies can help cities to meet a variety of public-oriented goals, including sustainability and congestion relief targets. In addition, new dockless services increase transportation access to communities with fewer mobility options. However, cities are grappling with the challenges of dockless shared active transportation, namely how these services should operate in the public right-of-way.
Cities across the country have adopted vastly different means of oversight and management for these services. NACTO’s report describes the state of practice in 17 cities on a variety of considerations, including fleet size, vehicle distribution, fees/pricing, equity programming, and permit overviews.
Following are some examples of variance in cities’ approaches to regulating dockless vehicles:
- Los Angeles has established a 3,000 maximum on the number of allowed vehicles per company; Durham has not set any limitations on the number of allowed vehicles; Seattle has established a 500 minimum on the number of allowed vehicles per company.
- Some cities require companies to meet service thresholds (e.g. two rides per bike per day in Boulder) in order to expand service; five cities have no parameters for expansion.
- In terms of distributing vehicles across the service area to provide equitable service, Denver requires operators to distribute vehicles to transit and bus stops and in areas of high need throughout the day; Charlotte requires operators to place no more than three bicycles and two scooters on a block face; Washington, DC requires companies to relocate over-concentrated vehicles within two hours; Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Dallas have no parameters for distribution.
- Some cities have established permit/licensing fees in the tens of thousands of dollars (e.g. $15,000 in Denver; $14,480-28,440 for the initial permit and $12,380-26,340 for the renewal in Sacramento) to cover costs associated with administration, oversight, direct costs (e.g. removing damaged bikes from sidewalks), and planning and engagement; seven cities have no permitting fees in place.
In this period of testing regulatory norms on how cities should manage dockless services, cities are trying to balance public requests to regulate while also determining the appropriate level of restrictions to place on these services. Shared active transportation takes little space, provides low carbon transportation options, and (unlike most docked bikeshare and other transportation services) improves transportation access without directly using public dollars.
NACTO plans to review and revise the guidance document six months from now, and on an as-needed basis after that. That gives cities, private companies, and other stakeholders the opportunity to provide input as the organization evaluates and refines their recommendations.
The report’s policy recommendations are divided into two sections: policy issues that all cities should consider when developing contracts, permits, and licenses; and policy issues that will need to be tailored to cities’ unique goals and standards. These recommendations are outlined in the table below, with detailed examples of each explained in the report.
|Policy areas where all cities should be in alignment||Policy areas where issues should be evaluated at a local level|
|Oversight & Authority
-Public Communications Oversight
|Small Vehicle Parking
-Where in the Right of Way?
-How can space be provided or marked?
-Provisions & Access
-Quality & Accuracy
|Community Engagement and Equity Programs
|Small Vehicle Standards for the Shared-Use Context|
As it prepares to revise the guidance document, NACTO should consider several key issues.
Be careful not to place too many regulatory requirements
Shared active transportation providers are private, for-profit companies that are using public space. As such, they should be required to meet certain standards for the privilege of using that space. However, these companies are generally providing something that cities should want: easy, inexpensive access to bikes and scooters. Too much regulation, particularly of a startup industry, might make the market unattractive and cities could end up with no dockless services at all.
Certain provisions in the report, including the highly specific data requirements, are misaligned with where cities should focus their regulatory attention at this stage. For example, the suggestion that companies send aggregated data to a city on a weekly basis and that vehicles collect user data every 90 seconds while in use may pose undue burden on companies.
Where the report provides specific guidance on issues that may ultimately serve to burden companies, it fails to address larger issues that are relevant to cities, such as how dockless vehicles should occupy public space while in use. Clear guidance on whether or where these devices are permitted for use – in bike lanes?, on sidewalks? – would benefit cities at this stage.
Lighten guidelines that create “double standards” for dockless companies
NACTO’s report is the first attempt at rationalizing the various approaches to regulation of shared active transportation and it thus begins an important conversation about how cities can ensure responsible expansion of mobility services.
However, other modes of transportation have not be held to the same standard. No such approach was taken when, for example, ridehailing services first appeared on city streets, and regulations on ridehailing services remain light. Throughout the report, guidelines are proposed for which there do not exist parallel regulations for other modes, namely automobiles. The suggestion that cities “reserve the right to limit the duration of licenses and permits” does not necessarily have an equivalent precedent for ride hailing, taxis, or car rentals. Additionally, for-hire rides and private automobiles, which also use public right of way, rarely have data requirements. By establishing uniquely strict limits on dockless companies, cities may ultimately make it harder to reduce congestion and make city streets safer.
Require cities to improve bicycle infrastructure and equity programs
Dockless mobility has the potential to improve transportation access to disadvantaged groups. The NACTO report describes existing dockless equity programs, including Chicago’s requirement that companies’ hiring plans must incorporate collaboration with workforce development programs. It also describes nine of the cities’ plans to improve financial access to those with low incomes, the unbanked, and those without smartphones. Such programs can help cities to merge bicycling into more comprehensive city equity initiatives.
NACTO is in a unique position to take a stronger stance on encouraging cities to create an environment that allows dockless mobility to succeed. For cities, ensuring that services are accessible to all citizens equitably is a critical consideration, but designing safe streets for all should also be a top priority. In addition to describing potential locking and parking design options, NACTO should emphasize that cities need to invest in more bicycle infrastructure in the first place (i.e. parking and protected lanes) as a means to get more cyclists on city streets.
The full NACTO report can be read here.