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Bring on the Bird-funded protected bike lanes!

Posted by on August 2nd, 2018 at 12:34 pm

Hand over the protected bike lanes and no one gets hurt.
(Photo: Juli Maus)

Curbed reported today that e-scooter startup Bird has pledged to donate $1 per day from each scooter they have in operation to fund the bikeways where their vehicles operate.

Sounds like an interesting idea. With Bird allowed to have nearly 700 scooters on the ground in Portland by the end of this week that would equal about $21,000 a month or $252,000 a year if the company sticks around after the initial pilot period. That’s a significant amount of funding given that the City of Portland can add buffers to 5.6 miles of bike lanes for $80,000 and their new protected bike lane design guide says the estimated cost of a basic, parking-protected bike lane is about $65,000 per mile.

And don’t forget, that voluntary contribution from Bird would be on top of the 25 cents per trip fee charged by the City of Portland. If the Bird scooters got 4 trips per day that would be another $8,400 per month — or about $101,000 a year — into city coffers from Bird alone.

Sightline reporter Michael Andersen must be grinning at Bird’s announcement because he wrote about scooter companies funding bike infrastructure back in July. “The answer to the problems of the e-scooter revolution will be bicycle infrastructure,” Andersen proclaimed. “We’re not talking about enough money to rapidly transform Portland’s streets,” he continued. “But if it were dedicated to bike-and-scooter lanes and parking racks, scooter fees could be a new, indefinite revenue source for active transportation…”

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Of course a city-levied tax and voluntary corporate largesse are two very different things.

As a cautionary tale, it would be wise for Portlanders to read up on how Domino’s played city leaders to help carry out a clever PR stunt. Remember how the pizza giant got lots of buzz recently for offering to repair potholes? Vice dug into the campaign and found that — surprise, surprise — the ad agency working for Domino’s played electeds and city staffers like a fiddle, vastly underpaying them for their time while making off like bandits with free publicity.

Let’s hope these scooters work out, Bird keeps their word, and the City of Portland keeps their eyes wide open.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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51 Comments
  • Clicky Freewheel August 2, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    Be wary whenever a company offers something to the public for free. There is always a catch. Companies will never do something that costs them money without getting some sort of return on their investment.

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    • Chris I August 2, 2018 at 9:17 pm

      It’ll be great until the VC funds dry up.

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    • David Hampsten August 3, 2018 at 2:10 pm

      How will this cost BIRD any money at all? Anything they “donate” to the city will be a tax write-off.

      What this whole story tells me is how willing Portlanders are on paying fees that act like taxes on services such as Bird Scooters, but who are not willing to pay sales tax, a $15 tax on the purchase of bikes, higher property taxes, etc.

      If each 10-minute ride is $1 + $0.15/minute, then each ride would be $2.50, so a $0.25 per-trip-fee to the city is a 10% tax, plus a $1 donation per vehicle per day, so let’s say another $0.10/trip or 4%.

      Which indicates a “willingness” of Portland residents to pay at least another 14% in all kinds of taxes than they are paying now.

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      • Michael Andersen (Contributor)
        Michael Andersen (Contributor) August 3, 2018 at 9:37 pm

        A tax write-off isn’t free money, it just means you don’t have to pay corporate income taxes on it. So it’s like a 15% discount.

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  • Dan A August 2, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    Looking good!

    (Don’t get a ticket)

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  • 9watts August 2, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    PR stunt would be my guess.

    But I also won’t mind it if I end up wrong.

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  • Huey Lewis August 2, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    Scooters still aren’t cool.

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    • Gregg August 3, 2018 at 8:19 am

      I just checked. Scooters ARE cool (And so are skateboards and roller blades.)

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      • Huey Lewis August 3, 2018 at 9:20 am

        Were you checking the Giant Dork Index? That thing is always wrong and incredibly unreliable. Curiously it’s correct on the skateboards. 33% accuracy rate. That’s not great!

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty August 3, 2018 at 4:13 pm

          Seriously. Roller blades?

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    • Chainstays August 3, 2018 at 8:45 am

      It’s hip to be square

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      • Huey Lewis August 3, 2018 at 11:00 am

        You are so right.

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  • bikeninja August 2, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    A supplier I used to visit frequently had a little sign on the front desk that read ” We cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you.” Using money extracted from the Scooter Bro’s to fund bike lanes seems a bit like this. But I will take it if we can get it for as long as it lasts.

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    • CaptainKarma August 3, 2018 at 12:07 pm

      I hope there is readily accessible public accounting for this funding. I don’t believe It’s going to amount to much in the big scheme. Maybe they could buy another bike lane size street sweeper. I’ve never seen the one they supposedly have.

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  • B. Carfree August 2, 2018 at 6:33 pm

    As someone who strongly dislikes bike lanes that are hidden behind parked cars (out of sight isn’t exactly the safest place to approach an intersection from) and also isn’t a fan of dangerous wands that add another obstacle when changing over to the far side of the road for a turn, I certainly hope this is just a PR stunt and doesn’t yield any results.

    Now if the money was allocated to bringing the many overly-narrow bike lanes up to a proper six to seven feet of width, placing “bikes may use full lane” signs where appropriate, gettig rid of door-zone bike lanes, putting down some sharrows and center lines and maybe (pretty please) get some actual traffic enforcement up and running, then my tune will change. Yes, there’s a lot of stuff to fix; let’s not add to the list by putting in infrastructure that we will despise within months of building it.

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  • William Henderson August 2, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    It’s a nice sentiment, and I think there’s good reason to believe that it comes from a genuine place. After all, isn’t the main argument for protected bike lanes that they will help make biking more appealing and thus lead to more people doing it? More people biking means more people scooting, which means more revenue for Bird et all.

    All that said, I think cities need to be in the captain’s seat when it comes to defining what kind of revenue sharing is appropriate. Portland’s off to a great start with their .25 cent a trip fee.

    And yes, Portland and other cities should also raise fees on ride-hailing services.

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  • Buzz August 2, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    Can’t tell y’all how many of these scooters I’ve seen salmoning in the bike lanes so far. I don’t care if they don’t wear helmets, but at least go the right way.

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  • John Liu August 2, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    Maybe $1 per scooter per day could be added to the permit fee. Then there wouldn’t be the opportunity for other scooter companies, who don’t volunteer to pay, to undercut those who do.

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  • Jim August 2, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    From what I’ve been reading, is just about every city with electric scooters is now severely curtailing their use, or kicking the operators out of their cities altogether. People leave the scooters everywhere, middle of sidewalks, street curbs, bushes, salmoning on the streets and bike lanes. The users create massive problems, and no about of “educating the public” seems to work.

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    • Mike Quigley August 3, 2018 at 5:36 am

      If people were responsible enough I’d be all for these things. Americans don’t take responsibility for anything, hence the chaos. Portland is lucky. The Willamette river is close by.

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    • CaptainKarma August 3, 2018 at 12:12 pm

      I saw one laying in the middle of the street at 2 AM on Fully Blvd, either attemted theft or an inebriated customer of the nearby bar and potshop decided a cab would be better after all.

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  • Carrie August 3, 2018 at 6:56 am

    These initiatives sound great, but I’m wary of them because the people who will get to decide where the infrastructure would go (and what infrastructure would go there) are still the white, male top-down planners. IF we are truly going to see access for underserved communities, then those communities MUST be a significant contributor to the decision making. People are already bemoaning how there are so few scooters east of 82nd. Why? It’s not JUST infrastructure and throwing the inner SE view of how outer Portland should look without understanding the view of the people who actually live there will not automatically lead to adoption. Offers from the corporate interests feel a bit like asking the freight lobby how they want road design.

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    • PS August 3, 2018 at 10:25 am

      Why are there so few east of 82nd? Because contrary to Maus’ instagram posts, it isn’t cheap to ride these “across town”. It is $2.50 for a 10 minute trip, when you consider they are completely impotent climbing even the slightest hill, 10 mins doesn’t get you very far. If there was ever a tech solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, this is it.

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      • MTW August 3, 2018 at 10:56 am

        I wouldn’t say this is proposing a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. I think dockless e-scooters (and dockless e-bikes) fit in best as a “first mile / last mile” solution. I wouldn’t take an e-scooter from Downtown to St. Johns for example. But MAX to Lombard TC and e-scooter to St. John’s (in a perfect world where there’s a PBL on Lombard) is more palatable for some.

        I think multi-modal options are important. It’s a solution for those who aren’t “fit and fearless” I think

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        • PS August 3, 2018 at 12:19 pm

          Quick math suggests that if you ride one of these twice a day for 8 minutes to cover that first/last mile to a transit stop, you have effectively doubled the cost of your commute. I don’t know much, but I can’t imagine the market of folks looking to double their commute cost is very deep.

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          • MTW August 3, 2018 at 12:29 pm

            I’ll admit that my vision would see both dockless bike share and dockless scooter supported by PBOT which would then allow free transfers with TriMet/CTran (via HOP card.)

            I’m just saying I like these technologies, not that I necessarily like VC money administering them. I want these all integrated within our transportation system

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty August 3, 2018 at 4:21 pm

      You mean, things would be different if the scooter companies had a management team that look like this?

      https://www.limebike.com/about-us

      It’s geography, not racism, that makes the central city work better for this kind of system.

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  • Shoupian August 3, 2018 at 9:52 am

    “The answer to the problems of the e-scooter revolution will be bicycle infrastructure” – it’s strange that city planners and bike advocates see e-scooters as a problem that needs to taxed. When it comes to urban transportation the mode that creates the highest amount of pollution, wear-and-tear on the roads, imposes the highest risks to the public, and is subsidized the most is the automobile.

    It is mind-boggling that we’d welcome e-scooter companies to pay $1 a day per scooter for bike infrastructure but continue to allow drivers to not pay their fair share for all the external costs they impose on society. As economist Joe Cortright points out in his recent article, if the CIty of Portland would charge $1 a day per car in the city, the city would get $140 million annualy (the 10 cent gas tax passed 2016 gives the city $16 million annually). When it comes to paying for roads and bicycle infrastructure, it is simply inequitable, irrational, and unsustainable to make everyone else but the drivers pay.

    http://cityobservatory.org/e-scooters-and-paying-for-roads/

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    • Shoupian August 3, 2018 at 10:04 am

      It’s like saying now we impose a fee on clean energy industry for every solar panel and wind turbine they produce per day to help combat climate change and at the same we continue to subsidize the coal and oil industry. And everyone cheers.

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      • CaptainKarma August 3, 2018 at 12:15 pm

        We now have tariffs on solar panels, because why?

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    • John Liu August 3, 2018 at 10:20 am

      The impact of e-scooters is on pedestrians, cyclists, sidewalks, park paths and bike lanes, not on the car traffic lanes.

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      • Shoupian August 3, 2018 at 10:28 am

        What impact are you talking about? Give me some examples. And you think cars impact pedestrians, cyclists, sidewalks, and bikelanes less? It sounds like you simply don’t want to share space with scooters, and that’s the same mindset that drivers on the road have towards bikes.

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        • PS August 3, 2018 at 10:35 am

          Read a review article of these and there are common themes, awkward handling particularly on rough streets and at speed, inability to signal, very slow on any uphill grade, among others. Unlike cycling, none of these improve as your confidence/skill does, they are structural flaws with the product. So yeah, I don’t want to share the bike lanes, of mediocre quality already, with this type of user.

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          • Shoupian August 3, 2018 at 10:47 am

            Biking also gets challenging on rough streets, high speed, slow on uphill, and many cyclists don’t signal (which isn’t really a problem). I don’t get what skills are really involved in every-day, utility bicycling that you think we can all development. Even an 10-year old can bike a few miles to school. Explain to me what skills cyclists improve as they bike more.

            Based on your comments on product quality and skills, it seems that you want to exclude low income people who can’t afford expensive bikes and many people with disabilities who can’t get develop skills due to physical limitations.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty August 3, 2018 at 4:29 pm

              Knowing how to ride safely in mixed traffic improves greatly with experience. Do you really believe a 10-year old knows all they need to know to be as safe as someone who has been riding in the city for a decade? Really?

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      • Shoupian August 3, 2018 at 10:38 am

        By your line of logic, bikes in Portland should pay a fee too. Cyclists have an impact on pedestrians, sidewalks, sidewalks, park paths and bike lanes too. Are you saying that you would support a $1 per day fee from cyclists like yourself? It seems like your argument only rests on the fact that because bikes are here first, so e-scooters must pay for their impact. It’s like saying I moved into this neighborhood first so I get a say in who I want living in my neighborhood and what kinds of housing comes in. It’s NIMBYism applied to transportation.

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        • CaptainKarma August 3, 2018 at 12:17 pm

          Yes of course, rental bikes should pay.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty August 3, 2018 at 4:26 pm

      Taxing rental scooters is not comparable to taxing privately owned vehicles. It might be comparable to taxing rental cars, which pay far more in city taxes than the scooter companies do.

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  • maxD August 3, 2018 at 10:29 am

    I realize the money helps, but I am not sure if more money is what PBOT needs. They need the will and desire to make improvements. If PBOT wanted a safe, connected, direct bike network, we would have had one decades agao. PBOT wants streets for people in cars, lots of parking, freight access, and, to the extent that it keeps things moving for the aforementioned, bike lanes, transit and sidewalks.

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  • Todd Boulanger August 3, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    And as with any new source of funding, you have to make sure it is “additive” – by keeping pressure on your elected officials – so that they do not just reallocate other funds away from bikeways so it really is just net net in the end.

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  • Todd Boulanger August 3, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    PS. Jonathan – wow…global warming must be doing wonders in your NoPo neighborhood from the Mediterranean trees in your photo (must be some campus in the Bay Area / Santa Barbara?)

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  • Jim Lee August 3, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    Mike Quigley
    If people were responsible enough I’d be all for these things. Americans don’t take responsibility for anything, hence the chaos. Portland is lucky. The Willamette river is close by.Recommended 3

    Please do not further contaminate our lovely river with such dreadful machines!

    Every mechanic’s box contains a simple tool that instantly can deconstruct their operation.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty August 3, 2018 at 4:34 pm

      Click here to see one weird tool that can instantly deconstruct a scooter’s operation.

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  • Michael Andersen (Contributor)
    Michael Andersen (Contributor) August 3, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    Part of my willingness to tolerate high fees on shared scooters when we haven’t yet put comparable fees on cars comes from the fact that I’m haunted by the history of how the world’s first protected bike lane movement collapsed, back in 1901-1905:

    “The basic problem for sidepaths, Longhurst shows, is that after an initial burst of enthusiasm among bike advocates faded, there wasn’t enough public money in place to build and maintain them.

    Charitable fundraising dropped off. Governments resisted taxing the public at large for what was seen as a service for urban elites. User fees, funded by bike licenses, were supported by some bikers but not others.”

    https://peopleforbikes.org/blog/historian-uncovers-the-forgotten-u-s-protected-bike-lane-boom-of-1905/

    Quality bike infrastructure costs real money. This isn’t enough to build Copenhagen any time soon. But it’s enough to keep us moving forward.

    Also, Jonathan: are you certain the pledge is on top of local taxes/fees?

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    • 9watts August 4, 2018 at 6:06 am

      “Quality bike infrastructure costs real money.”

      This is true, of course, but I think your point elides the reason we need this infrastructure at all. I would be curious for you to comment on this—to me—important distinction. Do you agree that bike infrastructure is derivative of the dangers presented by the auto, and if so why should non-auto constituencies pay for it (or be recognized as responsible for funding it)?

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty August 4, 2018 at 11:12 am

        Without autos having shaped our current infrastructure, we might be starting at a more difficult point for the roll out of “quality bike infrastructure”.

        So to reframe your question, why should auto users pay more, having already advanced starting line as far as they have?

        Of course, your thesis of who paid for what and who owes what to whom is absurdly simplistic.

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      • Michael Andersen (Contributor)
        Michael Andersen (Contributor) August 7, 2018 at 11:43 pm

        I agree the danger and discomfort comes mostly from the cars. In a perfect world, taxes and fees on low-occupancy car trips would definitely pay for everything we need to do in the transportation system until the day someone turns the last one off.

        Ain’t a perfect world, though, and I don’t want my ideals to get in the way of my values.

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        • 9watts August 8, 2018 at 4:15 pm

          “I don’t want my ideals to get in the way of my values.”

          Can you humor me and elaborate a bit on that. I am not following your line of thinking.

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  • 9watts August 4, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    “having already advanced starting line as far as they have?”

    I see where you are going with this but don’t think I agree.
    Obviously we have a ton of asphalt “to thank automobility for,” but is that the most useful or relevant way to look at this? Bikes don’t require asphalt or even traffic lights or turn lanes. The more relevant thing automobility has I think bequeathed us is ubiquitous threats to life and limb, never mind inhospitable conditions all about.

    “Your thesis of who paid for what and owes what to whom is absurdly simplistic.”

    Aw, shucks.

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