1120 SW Fifth Ave, Suite 800, Portland, OR 97204
E-scooters emerged in 2017 as a new shared mobility service in the United States. Less than a year after their debut, e-scooters were operating in 65 U.S. cities. They did not arrive without disruption; companies Bird and Lime began operations in 43 markets without government permits or consent. Several cities responded with cease and desist orders, fines, or both.
Portland chose a different, proactive path, creating the E-Scooter Pilot Program. With the pilot, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) focused on giving Portlanders access to this new transportation option while also ensuring that e-scooters would support Portland’s fundamental policy values. Designed to assess whether–and how–e-scooters could help meet Portland’s transportation needs, the pilot featured a permitting framework that aligned e-scooter company business practices with four critical City of Portland objectives:
1. Reduce traffic congestion by shifting trips away from private motor vehicle use
2. Prevent fatalities and serious injuries on Portland streets
3. Expand access to opportunities for underserved Portlanders
4. Reduce air pollution, including climate pollution
PBOT instituted data-sharing requirements as one tool to assess the impact of e-scooters. Through the 120-day pilot period, companies were required to provide data that included real-time availability, trip starts and destinations, routes, and safety information as a condition of the permit. With this data in hand, PBOT could understand where and when e-scooters were used and monitor compliance with East Portland deployment requirements. Data enabled City staff to see e-scooter riding patterns and miles traveled. Technical data collection was supplemented by a rider survey, citywide poll, focus groups, an online complaint form, and community and stakeholder input.
Tens of thousands of Portlanders and visitors alike enthusiastically embraced scooters. During the four-month period, people took 700,369 trips covering 801,887 miles on 2,043 e-scooters. Trip data analysis and survey data revealed more about ridership trends:
A majority of Portlanders viewed e-scooters positively. In a representative citywide poll by DHM Research, 62 percent of all Portlanders viewed e-scooters positively at the end of the pilot. Support was even higher among Portlanders under 35 (71 percent), from people of color (74 percent), and those with incomes below $30,000 (66 percent).
Portlanders primarily used e-scooters for transportation. 71 percent of Portlanders reported that they most frequently used e-scooters to get to a destination, while only a third of respondents (28.6 percent) said they most frequently used e-scooters for recreation or exercise.
E-scooters replaced driving and ride-hailing trips. 34 percent of Portland riders and 48 percent of visitors took an e-scooter instead of driving a personal car or using Uber, Lyft, or taxi.
E-scooter users preferred riding on low-speed streets and in bike lanes. Many of the highest utilized streets were part of Portland’s bikeway network. Staff observations also found lower rates of sidewalk riding on low-speed streets or those with dedicated space for non-motorized users. Users ranked bike lanes as their preferred road type, and sidewalks last.
E-scooters attracted new people to active transportation. 74 percent of local users reported never riding BIKETOWN and 42 percent never bicycling.
The e-scooter pilot showed the potential of a small, light, electric, shared vehicle to move people quickly and easily without adding to Portland traffic. At the same time, the pilot revealed several areas where more work is needed to integrate e-scooters safely and smoothly into the fabric of our city.
Despite an increase in e-scooter-related injuries during the pilot period, most injuries seen by emergency rooms across Multnomah County were not severe enough to warrant emergency transport. E-scooter injury visits accounted for about 5 percent of total traffic crash injury visits during the pilot period. PBOT additionally received 43 reports of collisions during the pilot period.
We heard from Portlanders throughout the pilot period about illegal sidewalk riding and incorrect scooter parking. With speeds capped at 15 mph, scooters are appropriate for bike lanes or low-volume streets, but they are too fast for use on sidewalks, where they make it unsafe or uncomfortable for people walking or using mobility devices. And while staff observations showed most scooters parked properly in the sidewalk furnishing zone, improperly parked scooters negatively impacted accessibility and created a hazard for people with visual impairments.
Although bicycles are allowed in Portland parks, including Waterfront Park and the Eastbank Esplanade, motorized vehicles are not. E-scooter use on Portland parks trails violated Portland Parks & Recreation’s rules, but most riders (66 percent) said they weren’t aware of the rules. E-scooter use impacted other park users and presented a significant management challenge for Portland Parks & Recreation staff.
To align business practices with the City’s equity goals, PBOT required each e-scooter company to locate at least 100 scooters in East Portland communities each day and to offer a low-income fare. Companies did not consistently comply with the East Portland fleet requirement. Companies only enrolled 43 Portlanders in the low-income plan. Along with staff observations, this suggests low company performance in aligning business practices with City equity goals.
While many East Portlanders and Black Portlanders expressed enthusiasm for e-scooters, some focus group participants also expressed an overall concern for traffic safety and the risk that Black e-scooter riders would be targeted for racial profiling and harassment.
E-scooters have the potential to advance Portland’s transportation goals. This is one of this report’s key findings. This report demonstrates that as Portland grows and traffic congestion gets worse, e-scooters can move more people safely and efficiently in the same amount of space. This helps reduce reliance on automobiles and shift trips to an efficient, potentially less-polluting travel option. We believe there is a preliminary indication that e-scooters are a less-polluting travel option. However, we need more data – especially regarding e-scooter operations and lifecycle costs – before we can definitively say how much or even whether e-scooters directly contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gasses.
During the pilot, riders took more than 700,000 e-scooter trips on various types of streets. Throughout the city, sidewalk riding was lower along streets with lower speeds or designated bikeways. For us, this clearly demonstrates how important it is to have protected facilities that minimize conflicts between pedestrians, e-scooters, and cars.
For all of the positives about scooters that emerged during the pilot, we also learned valuable lessons about the challenges related to making scooters a permanent part of Portland’s transportation ecosystem.
Given the scale and scope of these challenges, we believe it is advisable to conduct a second pilot in 2019. This pilot will be longer to give us more time to collect data and test innovative solutions to the challenges that emerged this past summer and fall. We will specifically focus our efforts on improving equitable access across the city and ensuring safe and legal riding and parking.
With the release of this report, PBOT plans to conduct additional public and stakeholder engagement through February 2019. Public engagement will inform a revision of PBOT’s administrative rule and permit application. PBOT anticipates have e-scooters on the ground again in early spring.