Tope Folarin joins Kojo to talk about his debut novel, which follows a Nigerian American from boyhood to his young adult years as he navigates family, faith and identity. Plus, Folarin's path as a writer and D.C.'s literary scene.
Electric mopeds will join bikes and scooters as the newest ride share option in the District later this month.
The District Department of Transportation has announced a four-month pilot program that will make electric mopeds, also known as motor-driven cycles, available for short-term rent via an app. DDOT Director Jeff Marootian said that the city is keen to test this newest “micromobility” option as his agency works to “reduce dependence on single-occupancy vehicles and expand the sustainable transportation options we offer to residents and visitors.”
The dockless mopeds will be battery-powered, won’t require riders to shift gears, and have the capacity to travel at a maximum speed of 30 mph. Think “Vespa.”
Several companies — including Revel and Muving, which already operate shared mopeds in New York and Atlanta — have expressed interest in participating in the pilot program. The companies will be required to provide helmets with every vehicle and check that riders have a valid driver’s license. And moped riding on the sidewalk will not be allowed, although riders can park them on the sidewalk outside of the downtown business district.
But even before the outrage at mopeds cluttering up crowded sidewalks fills your social media feeds, transportation experts and seasoned moped riders alike are raising concerns about safety and traffic risks. Apparently, zipping around the city while channeling your inner Italian film star is not “just like riding a bike.”
Produced by Monna Kashfi
KOJO NNAMDIMake room. Mopeds are coming to D.C. Electric mopeds will soon join bikes and scooters as the newest Micromobility Rideshare option in the District. The D.C. Department of Transportation has announced a four-month pilot program that will make electric mopeds -- also known as motor-driven cycles -- available for short-term rent via an app. But even before the outrage at mopeds cluttering up crowded sidewalks becomes the talk of the town, transportation experts and seasoned moped riders alike are raising concerns about safety and traffic risks. Joining me now to discuss this is Jordan Pascale. He's the transportation reporter at WAMU. Jordan, good to see you.
JORDAN PASCALEHi, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is John Townsend. He's the public relations manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic. John Townsend, thank you for joining us.
JOHN TOWNSENDGreat seeing you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Gerald Helfgott is the owner of Modern Classics, a scooter and motorcycle shop here in D.C. Gerald Helfgott, thank you for joining us.
GERALD HELFGOTTThank you for having me.
NNAMDIGerald, before we get started, help us understand exactly what we're talking about, here. What kind of vehicle are we discussing? What, in this case, is a moped? I've also heard people refer to them as scooters. Are they the same thing?
HELFGOTTNo. A moped is a motorized bicycle. That's its real definition. A scooter used to be defined as a motorcycle with a step-through frame. And that is, you know, what we know of Vespas, things like that. And they're very different, because the design criteria for a scooter -- what I refer to as a scooter -- are the same things that you have to go through for building a motorcycle.
NNAMDIAnd the difference is that the scooters that we now see on the street, that people ride on, are not going to be anything like the mopeds. The mopeds will have a step-through frame.
HELFGOTTRight. It is really a motorcycle. It just has a small engine.
NNAMDIA lot of bike share bikes are now electric and can hit speeds of 20 or more miles an hour. So, what's the difference between those and mopeds? Are lines getting blurred, here?
HELFGOTTThey're getting blurred because what I call a scooter is -- you know, I try to use that term -- is that they can go up to 30 miles an hour if they're a 50 CC or lower engine size, or equivalent size in an electric motor. They go a lot faster. They probably have much quicker pickup. I haven't tried one of these. And they're going to have, actually, much better brakes, which would be a good thing.
NNAMDIJordan, it feels as if there are a whole lot of new electric scooters and bikes on the streets and sidewalks, and rule and regulations are not quite keeping up. But mopeds are a bit more serious. They're actually small motorcycles. What are the rules and regulations that DDOT has laid out for this pilot moped program?
PASCALEYeah. So, DDOT announced this a couple weeks ago, and just this morning, they came out with a 16-page document that lays out quite a few restrictions and regulations. Like we said, it's limited to 30 miles per hour. It'll have a governor that won't let it go above that mile per hour. These are all going to be electric vehicles, so no gas-powered. Companies will have to have riders be 21. They have to have a driver's license. They're going to provide helmets for riders to wear, and those must be worn. And companies also have to make lessons available for people to ride them. So, that was something new that was in here this morning.
PASCALEAnd then some other things in terms of number of vehicles and where they can be, they're going to allow up to 400 vehicles for this four-month pilot, and they're encouraging to make them available 24/7. But it appears at least one company that's interested says they'll only allow them to be rented from midnight -- or won't allow them to be rented from midnight to 5:00 a.m. And then these vehicles must be in all wards. So, that's some of the highlights of DDOT's regulations.
NNAMDIMentioned valid driver's license. How can that be verified?
PASCALEYeah, so, Rebel is one company that does this in New York, and they charge $19 for a background check on your license. And the way you do it is you take a picture of the front and back of your license with your smart phone. And then they also ask you to take a selfie. So, I guess between, you know, the selfie, comparing the photo, and then also, you know, that barcode on the back of your license, that has a lot of information that they'll gather from there, as well.
NNAMDIWill mopeds be allowed in bike lanes? Where are people supposed to drive?
PASCALENo. So, electric e-bikes, yes, in bike lanes. These mopeds, scooters, whatever you want to call them, will not be allowed in bike lanes, just on streets.
NNAMDIWhat about parking? Can they be parked anywhere and everywhere, like scooters are right now?
PASCALESo, another interesting thing about these shared scooters, they're not going to be allowed to be parked on sidewalks, but if you have a private one, you can park them on the sidewalk. And, actually, I saw one right outside our studio this morning that's parked, too, a bike lock.
NNAMDIWhat about what kind of cost are we talking about? How will the rates compare to Capital Bikeshare or scooters?
PASCALEYeah, so the e-scooters are -- they're, like, a dollar to unlock. They can be, like, 15 to 25 cents a mile. And I thought, you know, oh, these bigger vehicles, you know, faster, a little more skill, probably, to ride. I thought they'd be a lot more expensive. But, at least in New York, Rebel's charging about the same price, a dollar to unlock and 25 cents a mile -- or 25 cents a minute. So, that's about $6 for a 20-minute ride.
NNAMDIGerald, how difficult is it to ride a moped with a step-through frame? Can just anybody do it?
HELFGOTTIt requires, you know, a sort of different kind of balance. Because once the vehicle starts to move, it will keep itself relatively upright. So, it's easy. But braking is an issue, and really paying attention to what's going on around you is the really important thing, because frequently, cars don't see you when you're on a motorized, two-wheel vehicle.
NNAMDIWhat's the most important thing people need to know before they get on a moped? What is your recommendation to new riders?
HELFGOTTI used to teach the MSF Motorcycle Safety Foundation course, years ago. I would have them, you know, take some kind of -- have experience on a motorcycle, because that's what you're riding. It's not like driving a car. It's totally different. The dynamics of turning it are different.
NNAMDIJohn Townsend, John, AAA Mid-Atlantic has expressed concern about these mopeds being made easily available for rent. What are your concerns?
TOWNSENDOur major concern is that of safety, traffic safety, not only for the moped rider, but also for other highway users in the District of Columbia, including pedestrians and cyclists and other drivers. The fact of the matter is that these mopeds -- as Gerald mentioned a moment ago -- are motorcycles that have 50 CCs, speed limit or governor that controls the speed up to 30 miles per hour. And we think that the District is, depending upon the company, like Rebel, to set the traffic safety culture when the District itself should be doing it.
TOWNSENDLet me give you an example of three things we're concerned about. Number one, the District no longer offers a motorcycle safety road skills test. It farmed it out, ten years ago. But yet, in the last ten years, we've lost 40 motorcyclists in this city. compared to ten cyclists. So, if you look at traffic deaths and fatalities and injuries in this city alone, the District, the third leading cause of a traffic death in the city is to be riding on a motorcycle or a motor scooter. And yet, it's as if they are the forgotten population and populace in terms of the traffic safety culture.
NNAMDIYou've also got some research conducted in cities outside of the United States -- where mopeds are common -- about the risk of injury riding on a moped versus riding in a car. Tell us about that.
TOWNSENDYes. So, there are several studies -- very few studies have been done recently in the United States, but here's one that I have here that was recently conducted by the European Union , integration of needs of mopeds and motorcycle riders, and just safety measures in Europe. And what we find is that the number of persons injured in motorcycle crashes, per se -- if you can classify it that way -- and moped crashes really doesn't differentiate much, or differ much.
TOWNSENDThe one big factor is that those persons killed in motorcycle crashes tend to be older, because even in the United States -- Gerald and I were talking about this, about people who are re-entry drivers, people in their 50s who may have ridden in their 20s, who are going back in and riding motorcycles. So, that demographic is changing. But mostly, the people who are being killed in moped crashes tend to be younger.
TOWNSENDNow, the District has mandated that you have to be 21 years old in order to be able to rent one of these mopeds, but we still worry about the people with the least amount of experience, and any kind of motorized vehicle would be the ones who would be the victims of this misadventure, as we call it.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here's Jude, in Southwest Washington. Jude, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JUDEHi, Kojo. Thank you. So, it was interesting to hear your guests mention bicycles deaths. I can't speak to moped deaths. I don't have official numbers. But a lot of those deaths are caused by people in cars. And I understand the safety concerns when we have these new Micromobility options, but it seems that the main cause, these large giant vehicles, are never addressed when something new comes up like this.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to Gerald Helfgott, because you talked a little bit about the fact that sometimes motorists -- if they're not in a culture where they're used to seeing mopeds or open-frame scooters -- just kind of don't notice them.
HELFGOTTThey don't see them. The medical term is a scotoma, a blind spot. It's like it's not there. They'll see somebody on a bicycle because they rode a bicycle when they were a kid, or they have children who ride on bicycles, or friends. So, they see them much more. On the motorcycles, you can just disappear. We used to joke about it with the instructors at the MSF course, that you could have fireworks blowing, you know, out of your helmet, and lights flashing everywhere, and they wouldn't see you.
HELFGOTTSo, the first three months I would tell all new riders, you're going to feel like every car driver's out to kill you. You know, then, all of a sudden, you'll discover that they just don't see you, and that you're really responsible for your own safety and watching out. And that's one of my fears, is that people aren't looking.
NNAMDIBefore I go to a break, John Townsend, several other cities -- including San Francisco, New York and Atlanta -- already have moped rideshare programs. What have you been hearing from your colleagues in other cities about what their experiences have been?
TOWNSENDWell, we talked to our colleagues in New York, AAA in New York, and they noted that the mopeds are not allowed in Lower Manhattan. They're located in areas that don't have the level of traffic or the traffic volume, because of safety concerns. And that becomes a real issue. The other issue is the lack of training for moped riders.
TOWNSENDJordan mentioned a moment ago that Rebel has said that it's going to give some kind of training class. But it reminds me of the type of training -- this is a strange analogy, but if you go to a gun show, the big joke is that you have to take a gun safety class, where you sit down to watch a video for a half hour. That's your training. I don't know how you can watch a video and learn how to safely ride a mechanical device. Gerald can address this. It cannot be done without the road skills component. And that's what's sorely missing, here. The District won't offer it. It doesn't offer it anymore. The company's going to do it, by proxy. So, how do we mandate the safety that's warranted for this type of program?
NNAMDII used to own a motorbike. And when I went to Bermuda, I rented a moped, and they gave you a little training, kind of around the parking lot, where you were. (laugh) It wasn't a great deal. And I rode the moped there, for a few days. For me, it was fine. For my wife, not so much, (laugh) because she was riding on the (unintelligible) at that point. But what kind of training do you think people need, Gerald?
HELFGOTTI think it may be a little bit more complex than what they're thinking about at the DDOT. You know, personally, when I taught people who, you know, bought scooters, how to ride, it's a good minimum half hour. And, you know, usually, I have them ride behind me, and actually put their hands underneath my elbows so that they can feel what I'm doing, because you're really not steering the bike. You're leaning the bike and letting it -- at slow speeds, the front wheel will turn itself.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll get to your calls. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about mopeds coming to D.C. with Jordan Pascale. He's the transportation reporter at WAMU. John Townsend is the public relations manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic. And Gerald Helfgott is the owner of Modern Classics, a scooter and motorcycle shop here in D.C. Gerald, you sell mopeds, but you don't rent them at your shop, even though you say you get inquiries about it all the time. Why did you decide not to do rentals?
HELFGOTTI was worried about the liabilities, (laugh) to put it very directly.
NNAMDIWell, Debra emails to say: no more vehicles, please. It is way too crowded already, and no one is held accountable for going against traffic rules. I feel it's already too unsafe with the road hazards in D.C. Keegan Tweets: let's be real. It comes down to car drivers not looking, being distracted, speeding, on and on and on. I know you've heard a lot of this before, Jordan, this debate between car drivers. But you got to say this, this is not the only pilot program that D.C.'s considering this year. What other Micromobility vehicles might we see on the streets before the end of 2019?
PASCALEYeah, I mean, earlier this year, DDOT announced it would look into even more, you know, accessible versions of vehicles. Trikes for people, you know, those low recumbent trikes that you may have seen on trails that are maybe easier for folks that, you know, are uncomfortable with the balance of a two-wheel. Those are coming, supposedly. And then e-cargo bikes to help move goods and groceries. And those will all be rentable at somewhat in the near future.
NNAMDIOkay. Gary in Alexandria, Virginia wants to know what it's all about. Gary, your turn.
GARYYes, hi, Kojo. Good afternoon. My question is simple. There's a profit motive with these companies that are establishing themselves in all the cities. And the almighty dollar seems to be speaking pretty loud. What concessions or what deal has the city of Washington, D.C. made, as far as revenue? And why is revenue dictating the situation?
NNAMDIWell, the question, Jordan, is it that revenue is dictating this situation? The District of Columbia's leading officials, I suspect, would beg to differ.
PASCALEYeah, I mean, I don't think DDOT itself is getting a lot of money out of it. I'm trying to look through their permits right now. I know they do, you know, charge a certain amount for, you know, access to the public right away. I want to say it's like $10,000, or something like that. So, I don't believe there's a ton from -- at least officially -- in this document revenue-wise for the District, but obviously, the company's making money.
TOWNSENDWell, that's the point. It doesn't make any money from it. But it is for the sake of giving people other...
TOWNSEND...choices to eradicate the gridlock and the congestion in the city, and to give people more transportation options. And that's part of the problem, too. I think the city doesn't make money from it, and it shouldn't make money from it. It is that the private sector is coming in and saying, this is a service that we're offering in terms of shared mobility. So, I do think there should be more oversight and more scrutiny, especially in terms of what -- before we sanction these, before we give a license for these programs, what is the overarching safety impact? Safety should be the top of the pyramid.
NNAMDIWell, as the representative of AAA, you can be considered an advocate for cars. Are you in favor of seeing a greater variety of vehicles on D.C. streets in order to lessen the congestion?
TOWNSENDYes. Yes, that's true.
TOWNSENDAnd let me just say, in 20 seconds, that there's no way we can survive as a region unless you have a multimodal approach. You need transit, you need other modes of transportation. But -- (laugh) you know this was coming, Kojo -- we have 1.9 million vehicle trips in the city every day. Right? And yet, that sector gets neglected by DDOT, in my estimation. I'll make everyone at DDOT mad, but other than the paving program that's going on now, we have forsaken the mode that moves the most people.
NNAMDIWill emails to ask Jordan: what are the implications of leaving the District with an electric moped? Can you take an errand to Virginia or Maryland?
PASCALENo. No, at this point, it is just in the District. I mean, obviously, the scooter programs and the e-bike programs have kind of, you know, made their way to different counties and cities. But, right now, it is a pretty restricted area of just the District. So, yeah, no going over Arlington Memorial Bridge, or anything like that.
NNAMDIThis one for you, John Townsend. Your guest is assuming that cars should own the road. In reality, car drivers are far less trained than any other mode of transit. Cars are the danger, not scooters. Limit the number of cars on the road, and they suddenly become a safe place.
TOWNSENDYou know, I'm reading a book called, "The World's Fastest Man." It's about the first black super-sports hero. He was a cyclist.
NNAMDII've read the book.
TOWNSENDYes. And there's a passage in there about Washington, D.C. in 1901, when people were saying that in the horse and buggy and carriage industry, that cars are just a temporary fad. They won't last, (laugh) and we need to give preeminence to bicycles. I think that we need to do everything in our power to increase every mode of transportation.
TOWNSENDAnd this nonsense about drivers being untrained is not true, because we have the graduated driver's licensing program that we pushed in all 50 states that require -- you can no longer do like I did and go to Sears and Roebuck back in 1960s and get your driver's license. You have to be trained, and your parents have to train you. And there are hours of training you have to undergo to get your license.
NNAMDIJordan, how many companies have expressed interest in participating so far? How many mopeds can we be expecting to see on the streets in D.C.
PASCALEYeah, so far, just two: Rebel, which is in New York, so far, and then Moving -- which is a Spanish company, I believe -- that operates in Spain and in Atlanta right now. I guess they both have representatives in town. And someone tweeted at me that there's even a warehouse of Rebel mopeds ready to go. Have not seen photos or anything like that, but supposedly, these have been seen, just waiting to go.
PASCALEBut in terms of when, DDOT tells me, you know, that the application process is opening soon, and it could be by the end of the month when these things will hit the streets. In four months, you know, I mean, it's August right now, and I think you probably want to have good weather months for this sort of vehicle. I can't imagine companies would get a whole lot of use in maybe, you know, December, January, when it's freezing and snowy out. (laugh)
NNAMDIHere's Rob in Washington, D.C. Rob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBGood morning, or good afternoon, Kojo. I am an Uber driver. I drive Uber in Washington, D.C., Uber, Lyft and any other ride share companies. And I just want to share my own experience so far, how tough it has been with the scooters. I don't think it's a bad idea to bring them in. It's definitely a good idea to bring them in, but training definitely would be one of the best things.
ROBAs a driver, I see a lot of scooter drivers just come out of nowhere, and jumping under my wheels. And not only I have to watch for cars and pedestrians, but now I have to watch for the scooters, then I have to watch for the mopeds, then I have to watch for so many other things. But definitely, training would helpful. Innovation is a great thing, but a lot of riders seem to be in a hurry in the morning. I've seen scooters holding coffee in one hand, and in the other hand, a phone. And I don't know how they're holding the wheel, to be honest. So...
NNAMDIHere's Jordan Pascale.
PASCALEI mean, it's a great point. I mean, you know, Gerald mentioned, you know, he takes people out and shows them how to balance, and all that stuff. But, I mean, these are rentable by your smartphone. You don't have to have -- and, you know, they'll give you a few instructions, but the training is optional. So, there are a lot of people that just jump on and kind of figure it out as they go. And this is obviously the biggest, most powerful -- other than rentable cars. I guess, you know, that's something that you can easily do.
TOWNSENDAnd there should be greater enforcement of traffic laws in the city, by the police.
NNAMDIHere's Hugh in Washington. Hugh, we only have about a minute left, but go ahead, please.
HUGHHi. My comment was in regards to accessibility of all the four quadrants of D.C. I find D.C. a small city, but large enough that you can't really access it, you know, using pedestrian ways. And so to add a lot of diversity to the experience of the city from getting from one quadrant to the other with these scooters, and we talk all about liability and profit, but it really diversifies the experience of residents and outsiders who come into the city to really get to experience the whole city easily within 10, 15 minutes, rather than getting in a car and sitting in traffic for half an hour to an hour.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Indeed, Jordan Pascale, these mopeds will have to be deployed in all wards in the city.
PASCALETechnically, yes, but, I mean, you know, for instance, just out of DDOT's thing, is that, you know, at least 2 percent of available vehicles in all eight wards or eight vehicles. So, I mean, can you imagine eight vehicles in Ward 7? It's huge. Eight vehicles in Ward -- it's huge. So, you know, you get kind of a concentration in the downtown business district and, you know, kind of the neighborhoods that, you know, are near that. So, unfortunately, they're not always as distributed as people would like.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Jordan Pascale is the transportation reporter at WAMU. Jordan, always a pleasure.
NNAMDIJohn Townsend is the public relations manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic. John, how long have we known each other? Maybe 40 years? (laugh)
TOWNSENDAbout that long. (laugh)
NNAMDIAnd Gerald Helfgott is the owner of Modern Classics, a scooter and motorcycle shop here in Washington, D.C. Gerald, thank you so much for joining us.
HELFGOTTOnce again, thank you for having us.
NNAMDIThis conversation about mopeds was produced by Monna Kashfi, and our update on the relation of federal agencies outside of the D.C. region was produced by Margaret Barthel. Coming up tomorrow, the former student body president of American University wins a judgment for three-quarters of a million dollars in a case that is being celebrated as a judicial condemnation of hate. And we'll hear about a local exhibition that is taking on gun violence in a unique way. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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