FutureStructure

Portland, Ore., Nears E-Scooter Deployment After Deliberately Slow Start

The city has had problems with disruptive transportation technology in the past. So when startups began blanketing other cities with electric scooters, Portland, Ore., decided to take a more measured approach before allowing them in.

by Andrew Theen, The Oregonian / June 1, 2018

(TNS) — Portland is expected to allow dockless electric scooter companies to operate in the city later this summer for a four-month trial, but transportation officials want to make one thing clear: There are many question marks and no guarantees about what happens beyond that.

"We have not decided (if) this is going to be permanent," Dylan Rivera, a transportation spokesman said Thursday.

Portland has watched and taken notes as other large cities like San Francisco, Austin, Washington, DC, and Seattle have experienced issues with the new dockless e-scooter rental wave that swept the nation in the past few months. Users can rent a scooter via a smartphone for a nominal fee and drop it off anywhere in the city.

Portland is also still stinging from its early relationship with Uber, the ride-hailing company that initially operated illegally in Portland in 2014 and subsequently apologized for past "missteps."

Rivera said Portland has been approached by several companies in the past year, and has decided to take its time instead of welcoming the companies, only to see them "dump dozens, if not hundreds of scooters" on city sidewalks.

"That's what we don't want," he said.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman and transportation commissioners sent a letter Tuesday to five companies hoping to operate in the city to set out some ground rules. Companies will be required to "report on and mitigate" concerns such as pedestrian safety, access for people with disabilities, compliance with state laws and provided anonymized data about users' trip lengths and origin and destination.

The pilot program won't begin in June, Rivera said, but companies could be notified by in the next couple weeks with more information. The question of where they provide service is a big one, he added.

Portland sent the letter to Skip, Spin, LimeBike, Bird and Goat.

Gabriel Scheer, LimeBike's director of strategic development, said the company was excited to start its service in Portland. LimeBike also has electric assisted bikes and dockless bike programs it wants to bring to Portland. But it first wants to be "a good partner" with the city on the e-scooter issue.

He said LimeBike wanted to "build on and complement" the city's own Biketown rental service, which has some 1,000 bikes at official and unofficial public bike racks in certain areas of town.

LimeBike said dockless systems didn't have geographic requirements, and could help bring transportation options to underserved parts of east Portland.

"Let's go to Cully," he said. "Let's go to Lents. Let's go to the areas that aren't being served by Biketown."

But many questions remain. Scooters are legally required to ride in the roadway or in bike lanes, not on sidewalks. Oregon law also requires all e-scooter riders to wear helmets. Bicyclists are only required to wear a helmet if under the age of 16.

Scheer said the company has handed out some helmets to users when it launches in other cities. It also "strongly encourages" users to bring their own helmets.

"We're very happy to have helmets be a part of the conversation," he said.

When asked how the company juggles bringing scooters to parts of town that lack bike lanes and other critical infrastructure, Scheer said that was something the company was aware of.

He said LimeBike could provide data on its riders' habits to hopefully drive infrastructure improvements on the ground in those neighborhoods if the data show ridership is there.

"That is a long-term fix," he said.

The company's main goal, he said, is to get people out of their cars and to reduce carbon emissions.

Portland is also wary that companies may try and start service in the city without prior approval. In the letter to companies this week, Saltzman said it would not allow companies to do that.

Failure to follow the rules, he wrote, "will result in confiscation" of scooters and fines.

©2018 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.