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Portland Bureau of Transportation suggests reducing the number of electric scooter operators within the city to between one and three.

COURTESY PHOTO: PBOT - Electric scooter riders zip along the Burnside Bridge in Portland. Electric scooters are here to stay — if the Portland Bureau of Transportation gets its way.

PBOT hopes to pare down the number of e-scooter companies within city limits from the five current operators to just one to three companies, with contracts inked for two- or three-year periods, according to a series of recommendations released to the public Sept. 16.

The bureau will present its finding to the full City Council for approval in November. The current test drive for the two-wheelers — the second such pilot program since scooters first arrived in July 2018 — expires at the end of the year.

Before the year 2020 took everyone for a ride, concerns about helmetless riders and carelessly parked e-scooters blocking sidewalks generated plenty of headlines and controversy.

That was then.

"A global pandemic and resulting disruption in economic systems have significantly impacted how much — and how — we travel," noted PBOT's 56-page report of its findings. "At the same time, recent national unrest over the deaths of Black Americans killed by police has demonstrated that Black and brown Americans are unsafe in the public right-of-way."

The report admits that "helmet use generally remains low," but asserts that sidewalk riding is declining. PBOT also created dedicated e-scooter parking corrals using stickers and Biketown spaces, but many wore away and "most riders were not aware" of them, the report said.

COURTESY PHOTO: PBOT - The majority of electric scooter trips occur in the downtown and Central Eastside of Portland, according to the transportation bureau. "Based on our research, PBOT sees sidewalk riding as an indicator that e-scooter users do not feel safe riding in the street," according to the report.

In 2019, PBOT issued citations costing e-scooter companies some $20,000. But only the Portland Police Bureau has the authority to make traffic stops. Operators also were required to implement geo-fencing technology that automatically slows e-scooters to 12 miles per hour when driven through Waterfront Park, the Eastbank Esplanade and the Springwater Corridor trail. The scooters are programed to slowly come to a halt within Forest Park and near playgrounds, PBOT said.

Some 68% of e-scooter trips begin downtown or in the Central Eastside, while just 6% occur east of Interstate 205, though the bureau said a requirement that companies deploy 15% of their scooters in East Portland each day led to significant ridership.

Most e-scooter trips cover about a mile and last less than 15 minutes. Even still, riders made tracks for a cumulative total of 415,000 miles over 1.7 million trips. Injuries related to e-scooter riding were pegged at a rate of 2.3 per 10,000 miles, and no deaths were reported.

"Like all parts of the transportation system, using e-scooters entails risks," an appendix to the report said.

The bureau said e-scooters do not yet provide a true last-mile solution bridging the gap between other forms of transit and most Portlanders' homes, but PBOT concludes they can help the city meet its transportation goals. Administration costs also will decrease if the system is made permanent, PBOT said.

"With fewer companies, we can expand and deepen the partnerships we have with those companies," said PBOT Director Chris Warner. "Just as importantly, city staff can focus on innovations and expanding equity in the system."


Zane Sparling
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