PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — It’s been seen as a sign of protest: tossing unwanted electric scooters high into trees or over guardrails into the river.
The Instagram account “PDX Scooter Mess” documents scooter destruction; its companion site, “Scooters in the River PDX” claims 17 e-scooters have been thrown into the Willamette River.
That figure has not been independently confirmed, but there is reason to believe that there is a problem with e-scooters ending up underwater in the river.
A KOIN 6 News employee with access to Bird’s charging app showed more than 8 scooters in need of a charge alongside the Willamette riverfront. Any person approved by Bird to charge the scooters could be paid $20 to pick up and plug in these scooters – but some haven’t been ridden, located, or charged in weeks, and one hasn’t been found in 2 months.
KOIN 6 News set out to locate these scooters, which the app shows to be on the very edge of the waterfront park. Three sites were visited, some of which showed multiple scooters in need of charge, but no scooters were found. People walking along the waterfront said they hadn’t seen any scooters parked there.
KOIN 6 News reached out to Bird to ask if it was reasonable to assume that all the uncharged scooters shown on the app along the waterfront were underwater, but the company declined requests for an interview. In September, when KOIN 6 News first asked Bird about scooters being thrown into the river, a spokesperson sent us this response:
“Our mission at Bird is to provide an affordable and reliable transportation option to communities everywhere. When Bird vehicles are vandalized, it’s like breaking windows in our own neighborhood. We hope that when people see available Birds, they are mindful of our friends and neighbors who rely on our vehicles to get to work on time or make it to their next appointment. We encourage people in communities to report incidents of vandalism to Birds, and irresponsible behavior on Birds, to local authorities and to the company. Bird investigates all reports of vandalism and takes appropriate measures, including working with law enforcement and removing people from our platform.”
Travis Williams, executive director of the Willamette Riverkeepers, said it’s hard to measure the overall impact on scooters in the river, but said the decay of the electric scooters’ lithium-ion batteries could negatively affect fish and other wildlife.
He encouraged people who want to protest scooters to find a different, more environmentally friendly strategy, noting that there is already a Superfund site 10 miles downstream along the Willamette as a result of industrial activities polluting the river.
“The last thing we want to do is create a separate little Superfund site, if you will, with dozens of discarded scooters and their batters in the downtown area,” Williams said. “That would be pathetic.”
While Bird wouldn’t comment on the scooters in the river, public records show that scooters are being tossed into the water.
Public records obtained earlier this fall by KOIN 6 News show that a Portland Bureau of Transportation employee emailed representatives from the e-scooter companies participating in the city’s pilot program to have them investigate reports of scooters in the river.
Barrett Brown, with the e-scooter startup Lime, responded saying he had two teams looking into all scooters that were unaccounted for.
“We are marking the [approximate] locations and have had success with using a grappling hook in the past, if necessary,” he wrote.