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Cities Keep Imposing Self-Defeating Restrictions on Electric Scooters

Portland and D.C.'s treatment of electric scooters undermines the cities' own goals.

Simone Hogan/Dreamstime.comSimone Hogan/Dreamstime.comAmerica's cities are engaging in another wave of restrictions on the budding electric scooter industry, just as limited pilot programs come to an end. This is particularly true of two cities, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon, which had previously been relatively welcoming of scooters.

Since July, Portland has been running a pilot program for dockless scooters—which can be rented right off the street using a smartphone app—allowing companies Lime, Skip, and Bird to put their vehicles out on city streets. Portland capped the total number of scooters allowed at 2,500 and required each company to deploy scooters in poorer East Portland.

This pilot program comes to an end Tuesday, and despite Portlanders logging some 755,000 miles on the scooters, the city's current plan is to now shut everything down so it can comb through the data it collected on the vehicles' usage.

"We need to assess what we're finding. We need to hear more from Portlanders, all of their experiences, both positive and negative," Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesperson John Bradley told OregonLive.

This assessment is supposed to guide Portland leaders if they want to bring the scooters back.

Something similar is playing out in Washington, D.C., where after a lengthy pilot program, the city is out with new, more restrictive rules for its scooter permits in 2019.

The number of scooters each company can put out on D.C. streets has been increased from 400 to 600, but that's about the only bone thrown to the four currently permitted scooter companies operating in D.C.

Companies will only be allowed to add 100 scooters per quarter. Any expansion of a company's fleet will have to receive approval from city officials who'll be evaluating their performance along a number of metrics, including trips per day, how quickly the companies to respond to code violations, and how many of their trips are beginning or ending in "Equity Emphasis Areas," i.e. poorer parts of the city.

In addition, scooter speeds—once 15 miles per hour—will be capped at 10 miles per hours instead, even while allowing dockless, for-rent electric bikes to travel a full 20 miles per hour.

Obviously, Portland's plans to totally remove scooters from city streets is more severe, but it is striking that both cities seem obsessed with regulatory minutia.

Portland's evaluation of its pilot program will look at whether the new service helped expand "access for underserved communities" or "reduced private motor vehicle use," yet companies can serve neither goal at all if they're not on the streets. (Whether any company should be required to meet these goals in order to do business is another question altogether.)

Likewise, D.C. says it's being heavy handed in order to address concerns about "safety and equity."

Yet under the District's pilot program, folks from all around the city, including its poorer areas have, clearly taken to the vehicles. A study funded by D.C.'s Department of Transportation (DDOT)—which is responsible for regulating scooters—compared dockless services with the city's own, taxpayer-funded bike share program, which requires users to pick up and return bikes to specific docked locations.

"What we found is that the dockless program overall provides greater micro-mobility accessibility across the entire city, and also specifically in Ward 8, which is traditionally underserved," wrote Regina Clewlow, one of the study's authors, in a blog post. Again, leaving aside the question of whether a private company should be required to provide social services in order to operate, is outperforming a taxpayer-funded program in the city's poorest neighborhood not enough of an accomplishment?

As Bird pointed out in a letter to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, the city's continued cap on vehicles frustrates the ability of companies to serve the very populations the city is so concerned about. A "cap on the number of e-scooters available to the people of D.C. eliminates any chance of this program being equitable," wrote David Estrada, the company's head of government relations last week, noting that "a capped number of scooters incentivizes e-scooter providers to put their vehicles only in popular, high-density areas—not in historically underserved areas."

D.C.'s regulations aren't changing for now, and despite a concerted lobbying effort from companies, Portland officials have given no indication that they're willing to allow scooters on the streets after the pilot program ends Tuesday.

That's a shame for riders in both cities. But it now seems riders were never the top priority.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    We need to hear more from Portlanders, all of their experiences, both positive and negative...

    Which do you suppose they'll focus on?

  • Cyto||

    yes, and we must stop all services while we look at this data.

    Sure, I recognize that we have no involvement in these services and there is actually no reason for us to claim to need to stop the services while we are evaluating, but we are in charge, so we'll decide what we need.

    Also, we need to decide if the services are being used "enough". In fact, one might as well go ahead and assume that the government is in charge of this company and we will be making all of the business decisions. And no, we don't see what the risks or costs of shutting a company down for a few months might be. We have evaluating to do, so move along. (just not on your rental scooter. Those have been shut down for your convenience.)

  • Cyto||

    yes, and we must stop all services while we look at this data.

    Sure, I recognize that we have no involvement in these services and there is actually no reason for us to claim to need to stop the services while we are evaluating, but we are in charge, so we'll decide what we need.

    Also, we need to decide if the services are being used "enough". In fact, one might as well go ahead and assume that the government is in charge of this company and we will be making all of the business decisions. And no, we don't see what the risks or costs of shutting a company down for a few months might be. We have evaluating to do, so move along. (just not on your rental scooter. Those have been shut down for your convenience.)

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    South Park had a great episode on scooters.

  • Bubba Jones||

    In San Diego the scooters go flying down the sidewalks. Rarely in the streets. 10mph seems plenty fast.

    I was also amused by the big stickers warning that helmets are required. But there are no helmets.

  • NoVaNick||

    Hipsters don't care about a possible brain injury-its not like they plan to contribute much to society anyway...

  • NoVaNick||

    Ooops-didn't mean any offense there to those with brain injuries!

  • Wise Old Fool||

    At least they still have brains capable of thinking unlike the reptilian brained alt-right.

  • JoeBlow123||

    The scooters are annoying as hell. I walk around with my wife and baby and the dumb things go flying by on a sidewalk inches from us.

  • Sevo||

    "...and required each company to deploy scooters in poorer East Portland."

    SF is requiring them to by placed in the Bay View, where the average life before theft is measured in hours.

  • NoVaNick||

    I can imagine electric scooters to be a prime mugging weapon-zoom up silently on a clueless tourist and grab their bag, then speed off and ditch the scooter.

  • Cyto||

    They are also probably an excellent source of batteries, wheels and bearings.

  • Sevo||

    There is no self-destruct circuitry; it seems you can easily hot-wire around the IT-required signal and simply ride it as a 'dumb' scooter.

  • Rich||

    greater micro-mobility accessibility

    *** facepalm ***

  • Jerryskids||

    Cities Keep Imposing Self-Defeating Restrictions on Electric Scooters
    Portland and D.C.'s treatment of electric scooters undermines the cities' own goals.

    It's called "revealed preferences". City governments don't want electric scooters as much as they want power over the electric scooter market. Don't be trying to sneak in here with your cheap, efficient, customer-friendly businesses and taking away our captive market by giving them what they want instead of giving them what we tell them they'll get.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Yeah that is not what it is about. People who do not need them (myself, I walk and bike and drive) do not like seeing them all over the sidewalk, having to see drunk retards flying past on the sidewalk fast as shit inches from you, have them cut you off while driving, or see them drive on the wrong side almost running into you on a bike, etc.

  • grb||

    Scooters are messy. They aren't used where they're supposed to be used. They aren't operated by any rules or decorum. They're abandoned in piles on the street. Up and down this comment thread people are trying to make this into some kind of Right-Left thing. It's not. It's between those people traumatized by messy chaos, and those people who aren't. You can find plenteous examples of both types anywhere on the political spectrum. It's a psychological phenomena which operates inside either ideology.

  • Bronze Khopesh||

    These are the same people that want more people to ride buses and trains yet want to make it more difficult to put scooters at bus stops and train stations.

    If you're going to insist people use mass-transit then there should be racks and racks of scooters available to transit commuters.

    Shouldn't that be a no-brainer?

    People don't like having to walk great distances to use public transit; along comes a way to solve that problem and proggies won't let it happen.

    It's like they don't think things through or something.

  • NoVaNick||

    Progs don't like any idea that the government didn't come up with.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    Companies will only be allowed to add 100 scooters per quarter. Any expansion of a company's fleet will have to receive approval from city officials who'll be evaluating their performance along a number of metrics, including trips per day, how quickly the companies to respond to code violations, and how many of their trips are beginning or ending in "Equity Emphasis Areas," i.e. poorer parts of the city.

    Here they go again, on the one hand spitting on capitalists for daring to make money, on the other hand, acting as if capitalists need to be told what to do to not lose money.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    These days, every single decision has to involve a year long process of gathering community input from every neighbor in a 100 km radius, and folks wonder why the lifetime fertility rate is declining.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Do these politicians realize that it only takes 50 committed drivers to effectively barricade a midsized American city? Just slowly park the cars at the start of the morning rush hour across the lanes of the traffic bottlenecks that the urban designers currently maintain. Alternatively, you can have "car accidents" with your friends that just scratch the paint off your bumpers so that you don't get charged with obstructing traffic or anything like that. Accidents happen. In New Jersey, we know how to make accidents happen.

  • Echospinner||

    "In New Jersey we know how to make accidents happen"

    You sure do. This is such a classic had to post it.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VKHV0LLvhXM

  • buybuydandavis||

    Leftist control freaks wanna control. Who could have predicted that?

  • Wise Old Fool||

    No different than rightest control freaks who want to control the bedroom, bibles in schools, and bathroom. They're both wrong. that's why I'm libertarian.

  • BigT||

    Are you allowed to vape and scoot?

  • Echospinner||

    As long as it is not a flavored vape.

  • NoVaNick||

    But no plastic straws may be used to consume beverages on scooters

  • Jerry B.||

    So if I'm injured by someone on a scooter, who's responsible?

    The rider? They can just walk off and dodge all liability unless the scooter company will turn over their records of whose credit card activated the scooter at that time, and even then proof of who was riding is difficult.

    Is the company going to accept responsibility? Probably not.

    Is the government that lets scooters be used going to accept responsibility? Hah.

    Until such questions are answered, either by the scooter companies or local government regulation, there's a lot of room for liability for damages ending up with the injured party.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    You might start with the answer to the question:

    Who's responsible if you're injured by somebody riding a bicycle or driving a car?

  • aajax||

    Achieving goals is secondary to the objective of making sure that no one profits or innovates.

  • Detroit Linguist||

    In Paris, where Bird and Lime scooters are very popular I saw an even cooler new sharing system: Rental of the other kind of scooter (the Vespa-style ones). Equally available by smartphone app, parked in scooter slots (scooters are very popular in France), and provide serious transportation options. Helmets are stored under the seat. 0,28 €/min cheap too. A 50cc motorbike license (or higher) required if you're under 30. Read about it at
    Read about it at https://www.cityscoot.eu/en/paris/

  • Longtobefree||

    So has either city arrested any 'Equity Emphasis Area' residents for refusing to rent the damn things and thereby achieve the desired results?

  • Duelles||

    I like that thought! The ACA Of scooters!

  • Duelles||

    I've watched C-span, I've seen "Portlandia" . . . I won't be needing the scooters. . . .ever!

  • CDRSchafer||

    I'm not against them but now we have three companies putting these things out and they're all over the sidewalk which is where scooter people drive the things. I guess it will thin the herd.

  • Mike d||

    I think scooters should be fully legal, but if some bozo leaves a scooter unattended on the sidewalk where anyone can trip over them, I say the rule of "finders keepers" should get invoked.

    Let the company / idiot who left it there / the guy who "approriated it" and like to return it for a nominal fee / their credit card company sort it all out.

    Hope they have a competent chargeback fighting department.

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