Wright: Geofencing would keep city's e-scooters in line
The Portland scene has recently included e-scooters in pilot programs to evaluate their potential to advance city goals for mobility, climate, equity and safety.
As with motorcycles and bicycles, safety is of the utmost importance. Helmets are required when riding an e-scooter. But, like oil and water, e-scooter riders, at speeds of up to 15 mph, and pedestrians do not mix well.
Riders have been thrilled; pedestrians, not so much. Serious injuries to people on foot have occurred despite the prohibition of riding e-scooters on public sidewalks or other public pedestrian areas such as public parks and esplanades. Enforcement of this prohibition has been ineffective, at best, and will continue to be a problem after contracts are signed with e-scooter companies and their permits approved.
Portland's Bureau of Transportation will soon release a request for proposal that will result in a permanent program serviced by one or more companies. Direct enforcement of e-scooter no-ride areas will be next to impossible because of scarce city resources. However, there is developed technology that is self-enforcing and has been evaluated in the pilot programs: geofencing.
Using GPS technology, the location of an e-scooter can be determined while it is in motion. This is the same technology used in cell phone navigation apps and in car navigation systems. The GPS-determined location of an e-scooter can be constantly compared with an electronic file (map), a so-called shapefile, with city-defined areas where e-scooters are prohibited. When in such areas, an e-scooter can be automatically and safely slowed to a stop. The rider can walk the e-scooter to an approved area where it will be automatically enabled to power up and move on again.
Geofencing must be a required capability to be considered for a city permit. However, when evaluating proposals, weight must be given to the response time when crossing into a prohibited area. This can range from one second to tens of seconds, depending on the communications interface between the GPS receiver and the shapefile. An e-scooter rider can travel the length of a city block, weaving through pedestrians, attempting to avoid them, before some geofencing systems kick in and stop the e-scooter.
As for anything with wheels that moves people, powered or not, there must be restrictions on how and where they interact with pedestrians. In addition to informing riders of area prohibitions, in rental agreements and by public signage, rapid-response geofencing must be part of Portland's e-scooter scene.
Using this latest technology, keeping Portland weird includes keeping Portland safe from rogue e-scooter riders.
Robert Wright is a Southwest Portland resident.
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