Showers Pass Warehouse Sale

Comment of the Week: E-assist boosterism will be Biketown’s demise

Posted by on September 24th, 2018 at 1:38 pm

Our post last week about new keypads coming to the Biketown fleet led to a discussion about the future of the orange bikes.

Commenter John Liu sounded an alarm. He said this website and “other cheerleaders of dockless and e-sharebikes” will shoulder the blame if Biketown ends up in the scrap heap. Here’s his comment:

BP [BikePortland] and other cheerleaders of dockless and e-sharebikes will be responsible for Biketown’s demise if that sad day comes.

Not long ago, we had a good bikeshare system that was working well and expanding in a thoughtful, measured way. Our city had worked for this for a long time. The bikes were high quality and sturdy. We were proud of our bikeshare.

Then this blog and others got enamored with the shiny new toy. Dockless! Electric! Thousands and thousands of dockless e-sharebikes, appearing on every corner, through the magic of tech venture capital! Throw out those clunky old Biketown bikes! We don’t want to work at pedaling or get any exercise at all! Cross the “active” out of “active transportation”! Promise us anything! Bring in Lime and Ofo, Spin and the rest, throw the doors wide open to the next new thing! Force Biketown to go full dockless, to expand faster than it was ready to, leaving orange bikes scattered far and wide. Don’t be patient and see how it works out for other cities before upending our own applecart. We have to jump on every bandwagon!

Advertisement

It was obvious what was going to happen. Most of the new bikeshare companies will go bust. The e-sharebikes will prove too expensive to recharge and maintain. Bikes will get stranded far from high usage areas with dead batteries. Rebalancing will be very costly. Thousands of dockless bikes will be dumped in landfills. Cities will end up with one monopoly e-sharebike company, if that. Prices will go up, way up. Service levels will go down. Customers will find that they, not the sharebikes, are the product. We talked about all this in the past year, but too many were and are willing to uncritically swallow the tech-bro marketing lines.

We are repeating the mistake with the e-scooters. Venture capital funded companies burning cash for marketshare, promising every possible benefit except actual physical exercise.

I feel this comment is worth highlighting for several reasons: It’s well thought-out, shows knowledge of the subject, demonstrates strong interest in the topic, and it bravely offers an opinion that runs counter to a prevailing wind. I appreciate how Mr. Liu did not go overboard and lob personal insults toward people that disagree with him. This is a good example of how to share an opinion — even when it’s clearly something you’re passionate about and it’s likely to be divisive and/or unpopular with other readers.

Thank you John. I value your comments and hope to read more from you in the future. (If you’re curious, I responded to his comment here.)

p.s. Please help us keep our comment section productive and welcoming to all. Let’s keep the focus on the message and not the messenger. Our national dialogue is so toxic right now, let’s prevent that from seeping into our interactions here. If you think someone has been abusive or inappropriate, please let me know and I’ll take a closer look at their comment(s).

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

Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.

BikePortland needs your support.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

73
Leave a Reply

avatar
20 Comment threads
53 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
32 Comment authors
Hello, Kitty9wattssorenDavid Hampstenpsyfalcon Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
John Liu
Guest
John Liu

I appreciate the shout-out. BP is an invaluable and irreplaceable hub for bike news, culture, and advocacy in Portland.

It is also a great place to exchange ideas because our commenters (or is that “commentors”? spellcheck tells me neither is correct and prefers “commentators” but that doesn’t feel right) are informed and civil.

I’ll put in an unsolicited pitch to support this website. Portland would be a poorer place without it.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I prefer using xxxor for a person, and xxxer for a machine or device. I can’t be positive which you are, so choose accordingly.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Does …not…compute

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Commentor for a person, commenter for a device that makes comments.

Pat
Guest
Pat

A rare “woosh” for Hello Kitty!

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Dang!

Brendan
Guest
Brendan

I thought the whole point was less focus on cars? Whether a bike share or scooter, it’s all less cars.

Older people I know want to ride bikes but start to get pain and have less stamina. They love e-bikes for this reason. They want pedal assist.

Then there are the teens who just want to hop on something, whether scooter or bike. I think comments about the VC funded scoots are valid but it certainly seems like a curmudgeon outlook.

Biketown has a major sponsor in the form of NIKE, which means that like many transportation endeavors in Portland, it can’t sustain itself based purely on revenue. “The deal is worth $10 million and will last for five years. PBOT had previously said they needed $2 to $8 million to launch the system, so this is a huge deal for the city.” https://bikeportland.org/2016/01/07/nike-becomes-sponsor-of-portland-bike-share-171981

On the other hand, you actually have companies who are attempting to make all their money on the use of their transportation, such as Lime and the other scootz pushers. If they win out it may simply be due to the pressure to get revenue.

I see these things as options to make not using a car more convenient, which would be the ultimate win whether people get exercise, assisted exercise, or minimal exercise.

9watts
Subscriber

“I thought the whole point was less focus on cars? Whether a bike share or scooter, it’s all less cars.”

Well, once upon a time the whole bike, scoot, skate thing wasn’t motorized. Now that this has changed it isn’t quite so simple anymore, is it?

“I see these things as options to make not using a car more convenient, which would be the ultimate win whether people get exercise, assisted exercise, or minimal exercise.”

I’m more of a curmudgeon, but good for you.

Beth H
Guest

“I see these things as options to make not using a car more convenient, which would be the ultimate win whether people get exercise, assisted exercise, or minimal exercise.”

I politely disagree.

Anytime a big corporation gets involved, they want two things:
Branding rights; and
the increased revenue that comes from “cornering” a market.
This has far less to do with getting people out of cars and far more to do with selling branded product.

Nike did not sign on for this out of the goodness of anyone’s heart, nor out of concern for a better, cleaner environment. They did it to Sell More Nike Stuff.
The city signed on because the saw a dangling carrot for increased tourism, which also brings in more revenue.

All of these companies creating and placing bike- and scooter-share products are out to make money. The goodness of anyone’s heart doesn’t weight into this nearly as much as folks want to believe. When car ownership is most costly and less convenient, THEN people will drive less.
We saw it happen in the bike-boom of 2007-8, and we’ll see it again next time we dive into deep recessionary waters.
Tourism and fashion aren’t going to get enough people out of their cars more often enough to make a real, long-term difference. Only a radical change in the way we fund transportation — and which transportation choices we fund the most — will make that happen.

9watts
Subscriber

Now we’re talking.

jeff
Guest
jeff

all of these scooter folks will be back in Uber and Lyft cars once it starts raining…

yarp
Guest
yarp

umm, you make this post but dont bother to acknowledge that his comment was putting some of the onus on you? no retort?

Hall
Guest
Hall

I’m surprised at your praise for the tone of this comment when it includes such an exaggerated and false representation of the perspective he’s countering:

“We don’t want to work at pedaling or get any exercise at all! Cross the ‘active’ out of ‘active transportation’! Promise us anything!”

He’s essentially calling e-bike riders lazy and entitled here, which is a bummer considering the positive impact e-bikes can have on equity. I hope it’s unnecessary for me to point out that someone considering using bikeshare may be older, or have a disability, or have a heavy load to carry, or be coming from a job involving physical labor, or be on the way to an intense workout, or simply be tired.

He could have made his point about patient planning and logistics without this harmful portrayal.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

To be fair he said there was no “personal” insult in the comment. There is that broader wide-ranging insult that you pointed out, though.

9watts
Subscriber

“I hope it’s unnecessary for me to point out that someone considering using bikeshare may be older, or have a disability, or have a heavy load to carry, or be coming from a job involving physical labor, or be on the way to an intense workout, or simply be tired.”

I find this line of argument, common as it is, very telling. Most of the folks who use e-bikes, or are interested in trying them I’d venture don’t fit those profiles you list. Most people who use power tools—to offer a parallel case—aren’t old or infirm or tired either, they just want to get the shelf built, or have no experience using hand tools, or like the way power tools make them feel. Why do we so consistently invoke the marginal case to argue that e-bikes are…. Valuable? Necessary? Unavoidable?

It seems that almost no one here is open to what John is saying in that passage. But I think it is important: motorized bikes, scooters, or whatever are categorically different from their pedal powered cousins. And to pretend otherwise seems, well, curious.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I might be wrong, but does John’s detailed and well thought out comment seem to be predicting the doom of Biketown and then soon after the death of the dockless e-scooters and e-bikes that he calculates will push it aside. Thus, his ultimate prediction is that we will end up back in the old days when we just ride our own bikes and perhaps rent one from a kiosk on the riverfront or brick and mortar location around town.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

This is exactly what he is arguing. That the VC-backed e-thing thing will drive all of bikeshare into the ground, and we’ll be left with nothing.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Heard today about the skyrocketing cost of replacement rechargeable batteries, which are already costly. Most are made in China, which shares the market with Japan. Tariffs are expected to jump the cost 25-30%. Sorry, no rechargeables or rechargers are made in America as far as I know. Not even for Tesla.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Owning and maintaining electric forklifts for 30 years has taught me that the elephant in the room with all rechargeable electric vehicles is the cost of replacing the batteries when they wear out. Both new tech and old tech batteries are just a collection of expensive materials and energy, neither of which is improved upon by Moore’s law. We are entering a future where both energy and materials will become scarcer and more expensive as time goes on. This is the fulcrum upon which utopian dreams of cheap rechargeable transportation will flounder.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

Renewable energy is getting cheaper, quickly. (And yes, you’ll remind me that human-powered transport is the cheapest and most efficient of all, but if an e-bike replaces a car, that’s a substantial energy savings.)

For the time being, batteries do use expensive materials that are getting scarcer, and also are mined via serious human rights issues. (e.g., child labor cobalt mines in DRC). But I think you have your head in the sand to think this will end rechargeable transportation. There’s a huge market for new battery technologies to avoid rare earth metals. And, as can be expected, researchers and companies are not far from delivering (for just one example: https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2017/08/15/university-of-sydney-charges-ahead-on-zinc-air-batteries.html)

Although an e-bike user, I am by no means a cheerleader. While I can dream of a manual bike powered world, I can also look forward to a reality that is a substantial improvement on the status quo.

soren
Guest
soren

electric engines are far more efficent than muscle-powered transportation.

9watts
Subscriber

You’ve flogged this one here for years, soren. It is one of those bits of dangerous flattery that reassures people that nothing can or should be done (about in this case the fossil fuel signature of some putative average North American diet).

What would be far more useful and constructive is to describe the diet that would right this absurd situation whereby the food (some of us) eat has such a high carbon signature that your statement might actually be true.

soren
Guest
soren

You are presenting decarbonization of animal agriculture and decarbonization of transportation as binary choices. I disagree and have consistently argued that a switch to a mostly vegan diet is essential to ameliorating ongoing global ecocide. (I personally made this switch in the late 80s.)

9watts
Subscriber

You wrote without qualification that electric propulsion was “far more efficent” than human locomotion. This is what I was calling out.

“You are presenting decarbonization of animal agriculture and decarbonization of transportation as binary choices.”

I don’t know what that means.
Human locomotion isn’t inherently about fossil carbon, and neither is eating low on the food chain. So why are you so determined to celebrate lithium extraction and electric propulsion? Use them as sticks to beat human locomotion?

And if a vegan diet upsets your spurious claim that electric propulsion is superior to human locomotion, why not skip it, or give us a fuller picture rather than the skewed one?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

For people who are not convinced they can be satisfied with vegetarian fare, I challenge you to try the Impossible Burger (available at many locations in Portland: https://impossiblefoods.com/locations). It’s vegan, and, as a victim of many unsatisfying veggie burgers, I believe this one will satisfy most carnivorous palates.

It’s better with real cheese (New Seasons uses vegan cheese), but even still, you will not be disappointed.

Hello, Kitty guarantees it!

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

I don’t think anybody expects the future to happen with today’s battery technology. We’re still using 2000 year old battery tech. Once we make a recent breakthrough in power storage we can move into the next era of energy production.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Like Nuclear Fusion, cheap, non-polluting, high density batteries are 20 years in the future and always will be.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Don’t be too sure. For nearly a century, batteries with enough energy density to support automobiles with a 100-mile range were always 20 years into the future too.

And now they’re in the past.

9watts
Subscriber

Not so fast with the victory laps.

We’re still up against the inexorably declining energy return on energy invested. No way around that, and no gadgets or discoveries are going to change this fundamental shift.

“At the societal level, declining EROI means that an increasing proportion of energy output and economic activity must be diverted to attaining the energy needed to run an economy, leaving less discretionary funds available for “non-essential” purchases which often drive growth. The declining EROI of traditional fossil fuel energy sources and the effect of that on the world economy are likely to result in a myriad of consequences, most of which will not be perceived as good.”
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513003856

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Batteries are not an energy source. They are a storage mechanism. Though you and I may disagree on the implications, we agree that humanity will likely have to learn to live with less energy at some time in the next few decades. But that doesn’t mean we won’t solve the more tactical problem of scarce elements like Lithium currently required for battery electric vehicles.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

If we develop no new energy sources in the next few decades, it will be a colossal failure of engineering.

9watts
Subscriber

New energy sources may well be developed. They just won’t have anywhere nar the energy density (EROI) of the early days of fossil fuels, which are responsible for our level of comfort, amenities, machines that do the work for us, etc,

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

How can you know that? Those sources haven’t been invented yet!

9watts
Subscriber

Well, I think the onus is on you and your techno-optimist friends to show how you are going to buck the 150-yr decline in EROI since the first gushers were discovered.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I have to show nothing. It will happen, or not. I believe it is inevitable. You are free to conclude differently.

9watts
Subscriber

You have to show nothing, or you have nothing to show?

soren
Guest
soren

“scarce elements like Lithium”

lithium is not a scarce resource. annual consumption is currently ~37,000 metric tons and total estimated resources are estimated to be 53,000,000+ metric tones (and many of orders of magnitude higher if less concentrated sources are included).

https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/pp1802K

9watts
Subscriber

From the abstract: “which is enough to meet projected demand to the year 2100.”

How reassuring. It is also rather different than your math would have us believe.

9watts
Subscriber

this just in:
from Wired Magazine, of all places:
The spiralling environmental cost of our lithium battery addiction

As the world scrambles to replace fossil fuels with clean energy, the environmental impact of finding all the lithium required could become a major issue in its own right

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/lithium-batteries-environment-impact

jeff
Guest
jeff

Lithium polymer battery manufacturers would probably disagree…

Al
Guest
Al

Unless I’m mistaken, e-scooters are in Portland on a trial basis. Aren’t they all going to turn back into pumpkins at the strike of Halloween?

Won’t there be time to sort through the data, evaluate the impact of these in the winter months and address John Liu’s concerns? Why the rush to judgment?

Clicky Freewheel
Guest
Clicky Freewheel

PBOT just said it was a trial to add a veneer of public process to the e-scooter launch. Rest assured that despite a predictable finding that the e-scooter companies are not meeting their required East Portland distribution requirements, that the city will permanently renew the companies’ permits anyway.

David Hampsten
Guest

Not that Portland Bike Share ever got out to East Portland either…

What I find most odd about Portland’s version of Bike Share is how little it has invested in East Portland. Soon after LimeBike moved here to Greensboro NC, many of their most popular use areas were in our poorest black neighborhoods on the east and south sides (downwind from the smelly factories of past decades now long gone, the places where blacks were allowed to live.) Finally folks could afford to use a bike and not worry about maintenance and theft. And use them they have, in droves. Now we have birds everywhere.

Yet nice white liberal Portland only supplies bike share in affluent near-downtown areas. WTF?

Columbo
Guest
Columbo

As a resident of East Portland, it’s been incredibly easy to dismiss BIKETOWN. Haven’t found a use yet for it, even though I work and play in the service area. Hard not to see it as anything other than an amenity for tourists when that’s the majority of the ridership I see downtown every day.

David Hampsten
Guest

Columbo, what’s really amazing about dockless bike share is that it quickly identifies locations of where the greatest latent demand is for new bike facilities, irregardless of political squeaky wheels or membership on advisory boards. For our city, which normally has pathetic bike facilities and virtually no riders except in wealthy white neighborhoods and around universities, it has been politically transformative. No longer do we hear from local electeds and bureaucratic staff that “they don’t see any bicyclists.” Now they do, on obnoxiously bright green and yellow reflective bikes. City staff have been much more speedy about implementing bike and ped projects wherever bike share usage is highest, which data Limebike has been very forthcoming about supplying to our city. And our highest use has been in the black neighborhoods surrounding A&T, an area the city has historically neglected as those neighborhoods are very poor and have the highest crime rates, a bit like East Portland.

The other consequence of bike share in general but specifically dockless bike share is on local bike sales. On the long-term, dockless bike share increases local bicycle demand for good-quality bike ownership. At first many shops saw bike share as a threat, but most shop owners quickly realized that while most consumers were not buying their bicycles, they were still buying bicycles, but cheap junk from Walmart & Target. Briefly, even these sales declined. However there has been a recent upsurge is $300-$600 new bike sales from a far larger customer base. Basically, bike share has allowed for a greater variety of people of lower income to try bicycling without the onerous burden of purchase and secure storage. Now that they have tried it and liked it, many are now buying better bikes than what LimeBike offers and are being more conscientious about bike locking and maintenance. Locally this is more true of working-class blacks than it is of students of any race.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

You can look at the vigor and ferocity with which the city responded to companies like Uber and Airbnb when they flouted the rules to get a sense of what the e-scooter folks are in for. Look out! Don’t mess with Portland!

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

Excellent idea:

Go trick-or-treating on escoots and observe if they all turn into pumpkins on 1 November 2018.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

If Biketown ends up on the scrap heap I really don’t think this blog will deserve any share of the blame, even though it has been mildly enthusiastic about e scooters and bikes. From what I have seen,on the streets ,the 98% of the folks who have been plunking down their digital cash to ride these personal transport schemes have never heard of Bike Portland let alone ever read it. Most of them don’t look, to me ,to be deep transportation thinkers or activists and only use them because they see them fun and easy.

Phil Kulak
Guest
Phil Kulak

A comment that includes “tech-bro” sure sounds like it’s lobbing personal insults to me.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

Who’s the person in this personal insult?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

It doesn’t have to be literally aimed at one person to be a personal insult.

Joe
Guest
Joe

hurry up rain lol.. fair weather scooter life haha

Laura
Guest
Laura

Thank you, Mr. Liu. I have thought many of the same thoughts.

JJj
Guest

As I mentioned in the other thread, e-bike share and e-scooter share can only be sustainable and equitable if there are docks that charge the bikes when parked. And by sustainable, I mean financially. I dont know enough about the waste and production of batteries to comment on those.

A model that requires random people to drive around and throw scooters in their truck every night to charge them at home makes zero sense in the long run.

…which is why so many companies have already failed in the year or so this stuff has been around

I recommend reading about the Arlington, Texas transit experiment. They had zero transit. Then they started a single bus line that carries something like 1,000 people a day. They called it a failure, threw it out, and welcomed in VC funded “micro transit”. Right now, theyre calling it a huge success because the city is paying much less…but theyre only moving 300 people now! A service that carries 300 a day isnt long for the world, and when the VC company bails, Arlington is left with zero bus service.

I think thats John’s prediction of what can happen with bike share. Another place to watch is Baltimore. They brough in a docked bike share system new to the US market. All the bikes were stolen because their locks were crap. Now theyre gone, and dockless bikes are in. Lets see if that lasts

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Why do we need docks for the sake of “equity”? This is another term that’s being overused to the point of uselessness.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

How will a person who can’t afford a cell phone find a ride if there’s no central depository?

JJJ
Guest

A system that is highly expensive to operate because of large labor demands (manually recharging) will either fail, or charge high prices. A system that charges high prices is not equitable.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

There will always be some who find any given price to be too high, therefore everything not free and without any barriers to access is inherently inequitable. This thinking is simplistic.

If a dockless system provides more utility than a docked one (I don’t claim it does), then it may be worth paying more for. If a dockless system provides more access to the service and more utility in lower income areas, it may in fact be more equitable, even if it is more expensive.

FRED TRAMPLER
Guest

WHERE ARE THE RASCALS FOR RENT BY APP MY KNEES R ACHIN FROM SHREDDIN A BIRD SCOOTER IN BURNSIDE ALL DAY

Pat
Guest
Pat

Seriously!! Has no one seen WALL-E?!

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Rechargeable batteries are only good for about 400+/- recharges under ideal conditions. And with the skyrocketing cost of replacements (thanks, tariffs), this “great experiment in personal transportation appears doomed.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

And the tariffs are nowhere near high enough.

Sam Churchill
Guest

As a 70 year old, I appreciate the easy option of shared scooters and e-bikes. No sweat.

But after the VCs and early adopters have had their fling, let’s make room for shared neighborhood bike hubs. Better. Cheaper. Local.

JF
Guest
JF

Look what happened to Seattle. They had 3 bike share programs. Limebike, Ofo, and Spin. The City of Seattle saw a revenue stream and raised the permit fees. Because of that, two of them jump ship siting that the new permit fees did not align with the rate structure and they would not be competitive with the other companies if they passed the permit fees onto the consumer. Now the only bikeshare in Seattle is Limebike. I think it will be just a matter of time until the rates increase since Limebike practically has a monopoly in Seattle for dockless bikeshare.

JJJ
Guest

Meant to reply here. They just jacked up prices by more than 100%. Good call.

https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2018/09/21/32691116/lime-bike-raises-prices-after-competitor-leaves-town

Columbo
Guest
Columbo

Just as Uber and Lyft will do as soon as they’ve eliminated competition from their regulated predecessors in the taxi industry.

Sure it sucked having to wait 45 minutes for a cab at bar time, but is it any better now that surge pricing makes that same ride cost 4x as expensive?

Matt
Guest
Matt

It doesn’t help that a significant portion of the bike town bikes are unusable because of the keypads. Even when they do work, it is a frustrating game of push push push and then hitting back back back when it finally registers. Glad to hear they are fixing this and I hope it doesn’t go away because it is so much more usable now that they have gotten rid of the hub system.

emerson
Subscriber

Hey Jonathan – As you saw I put together a polite, but pointed, critique of the ideas surrounding the topic of this post. Why not post the comment? What gives?

JJJ
Guest

And here it is. In Seattle Lime jacked up prices from $1 for 30 minutes to $2.50 for the same time as soon as their competitors bailed from the market.

https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2018/09/21/32691116/lime-bike-raises-prices-after-competitor-leaves-town

psyfalcon
Guest
psyfalcon

Hello, Kitty
If we develop no new energy sources in the next few decades, it will be a colossal failure of engineering.Recommended 0

Or political will.

Look at the trouble people in Las Vegas and Honolulu are having putting grid tied systems in. At some point it does become an infrastructure issue, but no one is willing to upgrade it -not the electric company losing money, and not the government either.