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People Are Leaving Scooters All Over a National Park

Photographs by Andrew Beaujon.

The Mount Vernon Trail offers unparalleled views of our nation’s capital and is a delightful route for cyclists, walkers, and joggers. It’s also a great place to see dozens of dockless scooters lying on their sides. I counted 34 along a three-mile stretch from just before Gravelly Point to the Roosevelt Bridge on my bike ride to work Monday morning—an average of one every 466 feet.

There’s a delicious air of mystery to many of these scooters, which have been left in places with no obvious egress from the trail. Were the riders sucked up to heaven in some sort of multi-modal mini rapture? Did friends with tandem bikes happen by? Or maybe the riders just hoofed it after the batteries ran out?

National Park Service spokesperson Jonathan Shafer says the agency doesn’t keep records on improperly parked bikes and scooters and suggests contacting the scooter companies when you see them strewn about. “Bikes or scooters that adversely affect visitor safety, orderly management of park areas, or threaten park natural or cultural resources may be impounded,” he says.

Some of the scooters enjoy a long stay on the banks of the Potomac because they’re so inconvenient to pick up. Scooter companies tend to employ freelance “juicers” who collect and recharge the vehicles, then leave them in convenient spots for other riders. But even the most motivated juicer would have to spend a lot of time if they wanted to harvest some of these scooters.

The scooter companies encourage people to contact them to report the vehicles, which are supposedly GPS-enabled but okay. I contacted all six that operate in DC, and most said they had a team that collects scooters; all encouraged park users to report strays. “In many cases, our team will locate and collect the vehicles on foot, such as on the Mount Vernon Trail,” a Jump spokesperson says. A Lime spokesperson praised the company’s “robust local operations team” and asks anyone who sees a scooter out of place to report it via the app or by texting 888-LIME-345. Bird says the company is “thrilled to see residents rely on options like Bird to commute from Arlington to DC and back” and asks people dismayed by the placement of one of the company’s scooters to report the fugitive in the “Community Mode” section of its app.

Rob McPherson, the general manager for Skip in Washington, DC, says that, for hard-to-reach scooters, the company pays higher rates that escalate until they’re picked up. “This summer,” he says, “we are also hiring interns specifically to educate riders about proper riding and parking practices.”

I like these scooters and want them to succeed. But those interns and operations teams have a big task ahead of them: on Thursday morning, I counted 29 scooters along the same stretch of path.

Correction: This post originally reported that Skip allows rangers to pick up its scooters, which I took to mean park rangers. Skip calls the people who collect and charge its scooters “Rangers.”

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.