For the majority of the fall semester, streets around campus buzzed with individuals perched on lightweight, matte-black Bird scooters. The scooters lined streets from St. John’s to downtown, snuck their way onto campus and piled in front of doorways. Then, they were whisked off the streets in November as though they’d never existed. Now, e-scooters are set to return to Portland as soon as April 26, with a few new conditions.
E-scooter companies like Bird and Lime have been key companies in a fast-growing industry that took major U.S. cities by storm in 2018. The scooters surfaced in 2017 with the goals of reducing traffic congestion, decreasing air pollution and serving low-income communities. From July to November 2018, Portland was one of more than 100 cities across the United States to host electric scooters by Bird, Lime and Skip as part of a four-month trial period.
The City of Portland is now opening applications for electric scooter companies like Bird and Lime to return to Portland as part of a one-year pilot program. These companies will be carefully vetted on their availability of data, reputability and compliance with safety regulations.
“We have some of the most comprehensive requirements for e-scooters of any city that we’ve heard of in America,” said Dylan Rivera, a spokesperson for the Portland Bureau of Transportation. “We were able to see the number of rides that had taken place since the start of the pilot program, and we were able to tell the public exactly how many scooters were in service. That level of information really helped people understand how widespread e-scooters were, and how much demand there was for e-scooter service.”
A simple user interface and a maximum speed of fifteen miles per hour make e-scooters a compelling option to get around town. After locating nearby scooters with the Bird app, anybody can ride the scooter for a flat fee of $1 plus 15 cents for every minute used. Other e-scooter company apps work similarly with a flat fee plus additional charges for every minute used.
Once the destination has been reached, the user simply ends the ride on the app and leaves the scooter for someone else to use. This option is especially attractive to college students, who often lack cars and the funds to constantly Uber.
“I used Bird for almost everything, like for restaurants that were a little too far to walk, or on late nights just to get around campus,” said Pat Barnes, a sophomore English major. “It just felt really convenient at the time.”
According to Public Safety Director Gerald Gregg, e-scooters are currently banned from campus due to safety concerns. This sentiment has been echoed by other cities and institutions; in August of 2018, the City of San Francisco announced that Bird and Lime were not welcome to return after their trial periods, choosing instead to grant permits to the smaller e-scooter companies Skip and Scoot.
During the initial trial period, the City of Portland received complaints that users were disobeying traffic laws, riding recklessly and leaving scooters in inappropriate places. Disability Rights Oregon also reached out to the Bureau of Transportation, noting that improperly parked scooters were a danger to people with visual impairments. And some users improperly ride their scooters on the sidewalk instead of the bike lane, where they congest foot traffic and are a hazard to pedestrians.
The Bureau of Transportation hopes to instate harsher penalties on individuals who abuse the e-scooter program, including possible suspension of their account. In the weeks leading up to e-scooters’ return to Portland, the Bureau of Transportation urges users to implement caution and their best judgment if they choose to take a joyride off campus.
“We want to encourage everyone to ride safely,” Rivera said. “Don’t ride on sidewalks, that’s illegal. Park them appropriately, close to the curb, and away from corners and bus stops, so you don’t block people getting on and off the bus… And of course, wear a helmet.”
Gabi DiPaulo is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.