Photo by Harold Mendoza on Unsplash

Scooter Surveillance Goes To Washington

Michele Kyrouz

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It feels like a year has passed in the time of the pandemic. But it was just late February when I wrote about the City of Los Angeles using its Mobility Data Specification (MDS) tool for real time tracking of scooter riders. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) requires shared scooter operators to report two types of data into MDS that violate individual privacy rights: individual trip data and real time reporting. These two aspects of MDS turn an otherwise sensible policy tool into a government surveillance and tracking system. At the time I noted:

If you don’t ride a scooter and think this privacy issue affects just a narrow group of millennials in LA, think again. This surveillance of travel behavior isn’t going to be limited to scooter trips. LADOT wants to collect this data for all transportation trips — whether in Uber or Lyft cars, autonomous ride services, drones, or whatever other devices are invented next. And maybe for personal car trips too, if they can get it. Moreover, other cities are using MDS and may adopt LADOT’s practices in the future if they are not stopped.

And just a few weeks later, here we are: the District of Columbia is now requiring shared scooter operators to provide individual trip data in real time — just like Los Angeles — becoming the second city in the nation to adopt these troublesome requirements. Scooter operators in D.C. will have to provide the details about individual trips, including start and end locations for each trip, in real time or within 3 minutes, and the exact route taken from start to finish, within 2 hours (L.A. requires trip start and stop data within 5 seconds, and route data within 24 hours).

The District of Columbia is an important market for shared scooter operators. Four scooter operators recently were selected for permits in a highly competitive process. To continue to hold a coveted permit, scooter operators will need to comply with new data requirements sent out by the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) after the permits were awarded. These data standards provide the new MDS requirements for individual trip data and real time reporting. This information is incredibly sensitive and allows the government to track the location and movement of riders around the city. As I wrote about LADOT’s requirements:

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Michele Kyrouz

writer | lawyer | author of The New Mobility Handbook | host of Smarter Cars podcast