Portland’s E-scooter pilot program review
Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) launched its E-scooter pilot program in july 2018, having set a permitting framework focusing on 4 critical objectives:
- Reduce traffic congestion by shifting trips away from private motor vehicle use
- Prevent fatalities and serious injuries on Portland streets
- Expand access to opportunities for underserved Portlanders
- Reduce air pollution, including climate pollution
Three (Bird, Lime and Skip) out of 5 applicants have been awarded a permit to operate for 120 days, for 683 scooters each within the framework. It included: a data-sharing policy in order for PBOT to evaluate the different goals (that have been complied to, except for Bird with availability due to misunderstanding between parties); deployment requirements, mainly to serve the underserved East Portland area (a penalty have been applied to Skip as it failed to meet the requirement of 100 scooters there each day); operation and deployment monitoring by PBOT staff, who adapted the operators servicing goals during the pilot.
700 000 rides (check the heatmap) have been done throughout the pilot, a 2.83 ride/scooter/day way under the usual 6 to 8 r/s/d usually communicated by operators. 34% of the user survey respondents said that their last trip replaced a car trip… but 42% said it replaced a walk or bike one! The difficulty of orienting mode shift. However, 6% get rid of their car thanks to e-scooters. Numbers also show that e-scooters are clearly a transit alternative, more than a recreational one.
What about safety?
Apart from reading that 83% of the crashed were falls of riders (no collision), it is quite difficult to get answers regarding safety, as there is no figures about severeness. Nice to see the complaints evolution graph: with education, and people simply getting familiar with e-scooter riding, it steadily fell. But let’s not forget that the majority of complaints were about pavement riding, showing a big discomfort for pedestrians.
The survey also points out that rider have a huge preference for bike lanes and small streets: if you do not have the proper infrastructure, people will move to the pavement to feel safe. A reason why e-scooters are helping building bike-lanes (we’ll have to find another word).
Is it good for the environment?
PBOT says that it does not have enough data to state on the environmental footprint of the pilot. First, to evaluate better the mode shift from cars to e-scooters, then to evaluate the weight of the operators and contractors vehicles used for maintenance and distribution. That will be a hard one, looking at the number of contractors and the difficulty to know the vehicle they operate with.
PBOT is taking things very cautiously… as they are now planning a second pilot in order to put light on the dark points of the first report: environemental benefits, conflicts with other street users… The permits for pilot 2.0 should be awarded by early spring 2019, stay tuned to learn more about it!
My takeaway from this pilot report:
- THE answer to safety issues for e-scooters (and all micromobility devices) is infrastructure. If you have bike-lanes or low-speed streets, riders will ride there, not on pavements.
- Making helmets mandatory is a non-sense, and is simply not working. It goes against the opportunist side of shared- mobility services, while the benefits of wearing a helmet are still controversial (look at cyclists in Amsterdam or Copenhagen).
- Even with frameworks and permits, authorities have very little power to monitor and manage operations by private companies. PBOT struggled to get requested figures and well formated API, did not have three operators compliying with the deployment rules, and do not provide any conclusion on the suality of service, impact of operations,… The model between authorities and operators has still to be be defined.