Portland wants to get serious with e-scooters and move beyond ‘pilot’ phase

Scooters on Naito Parkway. (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“We believe shared e-scooters have a long-term future in Portland.”

– Dylan Rivera, PBOT

After a four-year honeymoon, the City of Portland is ready to settle down with shared electric scooters.

Earlier this month the Bureau of Transportation released a request for proposals that aims to find a company to run a shared e-scooter system that would remove the current “pilot program” status and run through 2025.

The decision to double-down on scooters comes after PBOT has spent the past four years test-riding them and and analyzing impacts on car trip reduction, safety, and accessibility for people typically underserved by the transportation system. The first pilot launched in July 2018. The program had detractors, but riders voted with their feet and logged over 700,000 rides in just four months. PBOT launched a second pilot in April 2019 and the system has worked well enough for them to keep it running through today.

Scooters have even survived the pandemic. PBOT’s new data portal shows current ridership on a strong upward trajectory compared to last year and the number of rides is only down about 18% from 2019 (pre-pandemic) levels.

Since 2018 PBOT has worked with six different scooter companies and has permitted 2,990 scooters for a system that has logged more than 3.2 million trips.

In PBOT’s eyes, e-scooters have passed all the tests and it’s time to end the courtship and tie the knot.

“We believe shared e-scooters have a long-term future in Portland and this request for proposals is a major, tangible step in that direction,” said PBOT Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera yesterday when we asked him about the significance of the RFP. “E-scooters have shown themselves to be a convenient, useful and environmentally sustainable part of our transportation system.”

PBOT wants new vendors to offer multiple form factors, like this sit-down style from Bolt.

PBOT says they’ll award the contract to one or two vendors and the new fleet will grow to 3,500 scooters (up from 3,100 today). The winner of the contract(s) must demonstrate how they’ll achieve the city’s three goals of: reducing vehicle miles traveled and combating climate change, promoting safety and responsible riding, and reducing impacts of racial disparities that exist in our transportation system.

One of the biggest complaints about scooters is how they clutter sidewalks and block right-of-way. The RFP reveals that PBOT wants to take a big step to tackle that problem by requiring vendors to provide a “lock-to mechanism” for every e-scooter in the fleet and require riders to use it. Lyft, the company that runs Portland’s Biketown bike share system, recently launched their first docked scooter stations in Chicago.

PBOT says they won’t require specialized docks for the scooters. Bike racks and other types of “approved infrastructure” can be considered a “lock-to mechanism.”

Following a successful expansion of the current service area well beyond the central city and into east and northeast Portland, the new system will expand its geographic footprint. PBOT says they’ll require operators to maintain a minimum service level in neighborhoods citywide.

Ease of access is also something PBOT hopes to improve with the new contract. 

With four scooter companies operating in Portland today, users have to have a different app to rent from each one. When the new operators are chosen this fall, users will need only one or two.

Speaking of apps, PBOT is working on a new one that will include scooter rentals and take its successful Transportation Wallet program to the next level. They’re working with software company RideShark to develop, “an integrated platform to distribute multi-modal transportation incentives to qualified Portlanders in 2023.” 

E-scooters are currently one of the most expensive forms of transportation in Portland with an average trip costing about $5.55. That’s more than twice the cost of a transit trip, more than three times the cost of a typical Biketown trip, and even more expensive than driving a car! In their RFP, PBOT says they want scooter rentals to cost no more than $1 to unlock and no more than $0.35 per minute. Would-be scooter vendors will also need to provide cash payment options and participate in discount programs for lower-income riders.

Accessibility might also improve due to a stipulation in the RFP that requires companies to create a customer service portal and complaint process that is integrated with the City’s 311 system, “that are continually accessible to riders and community members with various types of disabilities.” 

Rivera says moving into a more serious relationship with e-scooters will improve the system for everyone. Fewer companies will lead to more market share and financial stability for the operators, and removing the “pilot” status will give PBOT a stronger regulatory stance to create a system more closely aligned with their vision.

The next chapter of e-scooters in Portland will, “change the city’s relationship from a regulator to a partner,” Rivera said. “It will be more like the Biketown relationship and less like the city’s relationship with taxis and transportation network companies (Uber and Lyft, etc).”

For example, the new contract will require companies to use salaried employees that receive benefits, instead of contractors. 

If all goes according to plan, Portland’s new scooter service would start later this year or early 2023 and run through fall 2025. Current scooter vendors will be allowed to operate until the future system is launched so there will be no gap in service.


Read the full RFP here.

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Tomas Paella
Tomas Paella
18 days ago

PBOT says they won’t require specialized docks for the scooters. Bike racks and other types of “approved infrastructure” can be considered a “lock-to mechanism.”

Looking forward to not being able to find public bike parking because a venture-capital-backed “rideshare” startup has stored its fleet of greenwashing implements there instead.

Chris I
Chris I
18 days ago
Reply to  Tomas Paella

Don’t worry. Very few of these will actually be locked to bike racks. They’ll just be scattered around the sidewalks and streets.

John
John
17 days ago
Reply to  Chris I

They literally said, in the article, that they were talking about requiring the scooters to be locked.

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
18 days ago

One other “housekeeping” item for PBoT (and the Department of Health) to add is a separate [new] medical coding for shared scooters so that any potential injury trends can be easily separated from little ‘Jimmy’s’ skinned knee while using an unpowered push scooter (aka Razer). [And the same should also be done for shared e-bikes too, if it has not been done already, just to make things transparent.]

Just makes reporting clearer…since the ER staff [& DOH] are likely to miss it when caring for a reporting injury patient, as task #1.

dwk
dwk
18 days ago

If only Portland got serious about important things rather than stupid toys that litter the city.. Seriously, walk or ride a bike.

pigs
pigs
18 days ago
Reply to  dwk

People use them a lot so they must have some merit. They have the option to walk, use the biketown, or transit and they choose scooters. Baffles me too but I wont argue with the numbers

David Hollenshead
David Hollenshead
17 days ago
Reply to  pigs

What about the numbers of us who got hit by the idiots who ride these rental scooters on the sidewalk???

Carter
Carter
18 days ago

I think e-scooters are great. Unfortunately, the people who use them are not.While it’s difficult to force people not to park them irresponsibly, I don’t think it’s difficult to stop them from riding in places where it’s not allowed (like the Esplanade). They’re all GPS’ed and will stop working when they go outside certain areas. It seems like the companies should be able to black-out areas from the map.

A clear (as in, widely publicized) set of rules would also be nice. Can they share bike lanes or sidewalks? Most people have no idea.

Hotrodder
Hotrodder
18 days ago
Reply to  Carter

They’re all GPS’ed and will stop working when they go outside certain areas. 

I think I just figured out the reason there were two of them parked smack dab in the middle of the Broadway bridge (on the sidewalk) one Saturday morning, not too many Saturday mornings ago.. I was tempted to stop and toss ’em (J/K) but I kept going.

John
John
17 days ago
Reply to  Carter

GPS isn’t reliable and accurate enough to fence that precisely. Maybe they could figure something out that only slightly sucks, but I doubt it.

More to the point, why are they not allowed on the Esplanade? They absolutely should be. If a bike can go there (to say nothing of ebikes that trivially go 20mph), the scooters should too.

MattGee
MattGee
17 days ago
Reply to  Carter

A few months ago, I rode a scooter in Austin and it turned off once I passed into a University of Texas zone. I quickly discovered why that area was shaded a different color on the in-app map, and then had to drag it back half a block outside to park it. So it’s definitely possible at some level.

John
John
17 days ago

This sounds like it has multiple improvements over the current system. I just wish the city wasn’t so frightened of running it themselves. This (and biketown) should absolutely be municipally owned. The profits for the companies are just waste resulting in higher costs, counter to the city’s goals.

FDUP
FDUP
17 days ago

I’m tired of finding them blocking sidewalks, they belong in the street (and not in the bike lane…)!

David Hollenshead
David Hollenshead
17 days ago
Reply to  FDUP

And I am tired of getting hit by the idiots who ride these rental scooters on the sidewalk…

Another Engineer
Another Engineer
17 days ago

Docked escooters would at least have some carbon savings, dockless escooters are really similar to cars when it comes to C02 per mile due to rebalancing and short life cycles.

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab2da8

David Hollenshead
David Hollenshead
17 days ago

Of course they didn’t actually consider the number of pedestrians injured by these scooters. I have been hit twice by idiots on Bird Scooters while walking on the sidewalk. In both cases the person who rented the scooter took off without checking to see if I was okay. Because a drunk driver broke my back years ago, after the second vehicular assault by scooter, I was not okay…
Allowing these companies to create this level of chaos while dodging responsibility is insane. As they consider the person who rented it as the responsible party. I understand why people vandalize and burn these scooters since the sociopaths who own these companies apparently don’t care about the people who get hurt by their customers….

Lee
Lee
17 days ago

I am all for these scooters, IF we aggressively fine them for using them on sidewalks. Many users just don’t care about the safety of others. That is clear just by how many scooters are thrown down after use like small children do with their bicycles at home.All motorized devices should be illegal on sidewalks except for mobility devices for medical necessity. Some of those are also used by entitled dolts who careen down sidewalks at breakneck speeds. A strong informational campaign concerning legal use of all types of these motorized devices should be a priority.

ActualPractical
ActualPractical
16 days ago

I’m waiting to hear the pilot results for private autos.

On a serious note, that’s quite the ransom list being submitted. With all the hatred and scrutiny towards scooters, I do actually hope they can be viable and used properly. They are legit alternatives to a 1-3 mile drive, I’d rather deal with a scooter idiot than a typical “motorist.”

Mark
Mark
16 days ago

Oregon native here who lived in Los Angeles for a time. (LA – Not my favorite place) There were scooters by Lime, uber, lyft, and it seemed like more and more companies each day. They were littering sidewalks, parks, everywhere. Even with a “requirement” people have a driver’s license to operate, young kids would use them. So many times I’ve been grazed by them on the sidewalk. People would ride them 2-3 people on one. One coworker now has permanent hearing and brain damage when he was hit by a car and cracked his skull.

I am not a fan of these things. They are truly unnecessary, especially here in our beautiful city.