Portlanders' written worries about electric scooters may never see the light of day — now that the complaints flow directly to the firms deploying the devices, disability advocates say.
New rules by the Portland Bureau of Transportation mean that people reporting improperly parked scooters or sharing other feedback are supposed to call or email the companies themselves, rather than contacting PBOT.
In a May 9 letter to City Hall, Disability Rights Oregon writes that the changes likely will result in "less transparency, less accountability and a less effective pilot" program — leaving the city with more questions than answers.
"If the companies are receiving the complaints directly, they have an incentive to downplay the seriousness of any complaints received or, even worse, to withhold the information," according to the letter. "This would seem to undermine the purpose of the pilot."
The revamped regulations, first spotted by Willamette Week, require the e-scooter companies to "anonymize" complaints before submitting them to the city, and the rules don't specify if the companies' data will include the original written text of the criticism.
PBOT will receive the public reports from e-scooter companies on a monthly basis. The summary data provided to the city will include "issue type" and "report description," and PBOT says it will audit the companies' response time to complaints.
Matthew Denney, a staff attorney for Disability Rights Oregon, said his organization isn't happy that e-scooter companies have been trusted to "police themselves."
"We're just concerned that it's not going to result in as good as data as the city needs to really evaluate if this program works," Denney said. "It's important for anyone who wants there to be independent oversight of the pilot project."
As the Tribune first reported in March, the disability advocates sent a previous letter to City Hall demanding that the two-wheelers be kept out of public right of ways, such as sidewalks, which led to a meeting at City Hall with Department of Justice officials sitting in.
Advocates and city reps are set to meet again on Wednesday, May 15. The chief of staff for Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the transportation bureau, says he anticipates "being able to get on the same page."
"The Commissioner agrees with the disability rights group's critique and appreciates its attention to the scooter issue," said the staffer, Marshall Runkel.
A spokesman for PBOT assured the Tribune that complaints will remain public records, but didn't respond to follow-up questions about whether the full text of complaints will be shared.
"(Disability Rights Oregon)'s input has been very helpful in shaping the second scooter pilot, and we look forward to continuing the conversation about how we can ensure that scooters meet the needs of all Portlanders," PBOT's Dylan Rivera said in a brief statement.
The Bureau already admits that it received thousands of questions, concerns and complaints during the first four-month e-scooter test drive that ended in November.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.