To Scoot or Not to Scoot?

By Claudine Gale

Tualatin High School (Tualatin, Oregon)

TO SCOOT

Across the US, people in major cities have been finding new ways to get around, and none have been more controversial and appealing than the E-Scooter.

This zippy mode of transportation is an update on a childhood classic. In an attempt to make it a legitimate and useful way to get around, companies such as Bird, Lime, and Skip have claimed that the scooters reduce pollution and traffic. Though these companies have been banned in San Francisco, Portland has put them on a trial run, in hopes that E-scooters might provide a safe, reliable travel option for those who do not drive or ride the bus. It is not without controversy, however, as some Portland citizens feel that the people who use the scooters aren’t properly using them, causing far more problems than they’re solving. We talked to many people down by the Portland waterfront in an attempt to parse how they truly felt about this new way to get around town.

 

The first person we talked to was a State Patrol Officer sitting behind a desk in the White Stag building. He claimed that he thought the scooters were “annoying” because riders did things such as rode on the sidewalk and didn’t wear helmets, both of which are technically illegal in Portland. Indeed, when we walked down to the waterfront, we witnessed many people engaging in such behaviors. Helmets were nowhere to be seen, and many riders swerved left and right on the walkway for seemingly no reason at all. It is easy to see how bikers and casual pedestrians could be indignant by these behaviors.

 

The next few people we talked to were unable to comment for a number of reasons. One woman that we interviewed was riding a Bird scooter, but unfortunately was already late for work and could not stop to answer our questions. A pair of ladies we stopped claimed, jokingly, to be “rather ignorant” of the whole situation and a man after that said that he had just moved to Portland a week ago. Finally, we managed to find a couple gazing at a sign for maritime tours, who had actually ridden on E-scooters the day before. They were tourists from Canada, in which no E-scooter companies exist, and they said that their experience was overwhelmingly positive. They told us that they much preferred the E-scooters over the rent-a-bikes that they were currently using, because “at least the scooters worked right!” (apparently, there was some issue over paying electronically for the bikes). All in all, they said that they would definitely like to see the E-scooters appear in their hometown in Canada.

We met up with another individual by the waterfront who was riding a Bird scooter when we stopped him to ask questions. Mentally, we noted that he was not wearing a helmet as he should have. He said that he loved the scooters because they are cheap and easy, and also because he does not have a driver’s license. He did mention, however, that he understood people’s concerns, and said that other scooter riders simply had to “not be assholes.” Finally, we met two Bird “Safety patrollers”, who told us that it was their job to go around Portland, making sure that people were riding the E-scooters safely and legally. When asked if the riders were made to sign any waivers before riding, one employee said no, and questioned the usefulness of said waivers, saying that most riders would most likely sign without reading. She suggested that instead, perhaps riders should be made to take a small electronic quiz before they are able to ride the scooters. We had our picture taken at the behest of the other employee, who also gave me a coupon for 1 free ride which I do not plan to use at anytime in the future.


In the end, I think that there will definitely be battles between E-scooter companies and cities across the states, due to how popular they seem to be. I see it as being a situation akin to how many cities have fought against popular ride-sharing service Uber, and yet the company has become somewhat ubiquitous in many countries, including the US. In the end, only time can tell the fate of the E-scooter. Will it flourish? Will it sink? Will people follow ordinances set by cities?

 

NOT TO SCOOT

By Shawna Muckle

Jesuit High School (Portland, Oregon)


Electric scooters provide a fun alternative to public transportation, but are they really combatting transit deserts?

Portland has been dominated in recent weeks by the introduction of three competing electric scooter brands, spanning both sides of the Willamette River and numbering near 2500, with dozens of e-scooter riders constantly on the streets.

According to the Portland Bureau of Transportation, by Aug. 15, the city had already logged approximately 96,000 rides. Given that the city charges scooter companies 25 cents per ride as a surcharge, the city has since generated $24,000 of revenue. How this revenue will ultimately be appropriated, and whether it will be offset by additional enforcement and cleanup costs, remains unclear.

E-scooter riders are specifically instructed to avoid riding on downtown sidewalks to avoid pedestrian collisions and to wear a helmet at all times.


However, downtown streets act as a breeding ground for violators of electronic scooter rules, and police don’t seem inclined to vigorously enforce those rules. A vast amount of scooter riders weave in between pedestrians on sidewalks. Few riders bother to wear helmets.


Portland officers have little monetary incentive to bother enforcing the rules of riding; police typically issue warnings to these violators, and when fines are issued, they are often low in order to avoid targeting low-income residents.

With such a low intensity of enforcement, it’s no wonder that Portland has received 850 complaints from individuals and local businesses about the abuse of electronic scooters. There have also been several minor crashes and incidents involving scooter riders and pedestrians or other vehicles. In spite of the dangers presented by e-scooters that primarily market themselves as a fun activity, transportation officials maintain hope that the e-scooters will legitimately become an alternative form of transit that eases commutes.

Portland originally adopted electric scooters for the sake of diversifying its increasingly congested, car-reliant metropolitan area.

 

For residents of underprivileged areas such as neighborhoods that extend past SE 82nd Avenue and into neighboring suburbs like Milwaukie, MAX trains and streetcars are virtually inaccessible, busses often only run one to two times each hour. This paucity of public transit options creates what are known as “transit deserts” for communities that often already suffer from long commutes and a lack of car ownership.

Transportation officials hope that e-scooters will relieve these lengthy, complicated, and physically demanding transit commutes for low-income residents.

 

The city of Portland has impressed upon e-scooter companies that they must do their best to ensure that scooters remain equally distributed between both the more affluent and centralized West Side of Portland, and the socioeconomically varied East side.

 

However, simply looking at a map of each charged scooter on both the Bird and Lime apps reveals that the scooters become disproportionately dense in the Pearl District and Downtown Portland area between each redistribution.

 

The Pearl District and Downtown Portland appear to host the majority of the Lime e-scooters.


“We don’t see [the e-scooters] on our side of the river too often,” Patrick O’Heele, a Northeast Portland resident explained. “Most people riding them are the privileged types or kids: those who enjoy riding for fun.”

For the numerous riders enjoying the scooters in downtown Portland, most travel in groups and appear to treat the scooters as a fun activity, rather than a necessary form of transportation.

“I happened to park my car and I have a meeting a few blocks away, so I thought it would be easier to just take the scooter here rather than having to re-park my car,” a woman crossing W Burnside St. with her scooter said.

She later added, “It’s pretty fun, but we also have MAX and a bus line in my neighborhood.”

While the e-scooters may, in fact, enjoy some success in enabling a new form of transportation and mitigating the number of cars on the road, they still seem restricted to those with access to alternative forms of climate-friendly transportation: namely, public transit. Still, the question persists: what about the low-income riders living in transit deserts?

A particularly prohibitive factor for low-income riders is the scooter’s cost inefficiency.

With an activation fee of $1, plus a minutely fee of $0.15, even a 10-minute ride spanning a few miles costs a user $2.50: the same price as a bus ticket. For any rider attempting to use the scooter as the last push from a transit stop to their home or work on a daily basis, a fee as expensive or more may not be financially feasible.

Considering all the barriers to using e-scooters, it seems unlikely that those living in transit deserts would find the costly e-scooters more tolerable than other forms of transportation. Much like Portland’s BIKETOWN, e-scooters are transforming into a casual form of fun and entertainment that adds more commotion than convenience to the streets.

 

This story was produced by student reporters as part of the WANT Summer Journalism Fellowship, an annual collaboration among aspiring journalists. For more information go to youthjournalismpdx.com

 

Photo credit: hjtan123

 

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