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Fairfax County’s e-scooter program currently down to one vendor

A Bird e-scooter at The Boro in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County has now lived with shared electric scooters for almost half a year, and early data suggests the devices have been serving their intended function.

There has been one hiccup, however: Superpedestrian’s LINK — one of two vendors approved to operate in the county last July — did not renew its permit after it expired in January, according to the Fairfax County Department of Cable and Consumer Services, which regulates the Shared Mobility Device program.

For now, that means Bird is the only e-scooter operator in town, but Superpedestrian and the county say Link will return.

“Superpedestrian plans to continue serving Fairfax County,” Superpedestrian Director of Communications Jamie Perkins said by email. “We’re working with the County now on our permit renewal, so that our riders in Fairfax won’t experience a gap in service.”

Rebecca Makely, acting director for the Department of Cable and Consumer Services, said Superpedestrian had recently experienced “some staff turnover,” possibly contributing to the permit renewal delay.

The permits granted by the county allow operators to deploy up to 300 scooters each. Superpedestrian says it plans “to continue with that level of service.”

Prior to its permit expiration, usage of Link’s e-scooters in the county was on the rise, according to data that the company submitted to the county as required by its contract.

Link reported 702 total rides in August, when it started deploying its scooters, with an average trip distance of 0.77 miles. The number of rides increased every month, reaching 1,045 rides for January.

Maps showing where trips start and end indicate that the company’s devices are concentrated in Tysons, Merrifield, and Fairfax, particularly around George Mason University.

For Bird, ridership has trended in the opposite direction, starting at a high of 4,968 rides in September 2021. After hitting a low of 1,007 rides in February, though, the company saw its usage more than double for 2,309 rides in March, suggesting the previous drop could be related to the winter weather.

“We’ve been encouraged by ridership in Fairfax County and commend the County for their commitment to providing residents with an eco-friendly alternative mode of transportation,” Bird said in a statement. “As the weather warms up, we look forward to seeing more riders scooting around town.”

According to heat maps that Bird gave to the county, its scooters are primarily being used in Tysons, Reston, and Bailey’s Crossroads.

For both vendors, the average travel distance has typically been under a mile, though Link saw an average of 1.16 miles in October. That suggests e-scooters are serving as a “first mile, last mile” transportation option, as the county hoped when the Board of Supervisors approved regulations for the devices in 2019.

“[Shared mobile devices] are easy to use and access and have a low cost of use, providing yet another transportation option to access entertainment, dining, shopping, and other destinations,” Makely said in a statement. “SMDs serve as a component in the ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan, with a framework for advancing active transportation and a vision and roadmap for safe, convenient, and enjoyable streets and trails in Fairfax County.”

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