Multnomah County

Electric scooters rolling fast toward Portland streets

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- Portland streets are about to get more crowded -- and not just because of the traffic expected from Oregon Department of Transportation projects.

Portland Bureau of Transportation has opened applications for a 120-day pilot program for electric scooters designed to go up to 15 miles per hour. The electric scooters have already hit roads in cities such as San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles, generating mixed reviews -- a fact PBOT spokesperson John Brady acknowledged. 

"What we've seen in other cities are issues with scooters being left all over the place, including right in the middle of the sidewalk," Brady said. 

In the 36-page application, PBOT asks e-scooter startups to describe their process for receiving and resolving issues with scooters blocking sidewalks and street lanes in real time. The agency is also asking for the companies' "helmet distribution strategy," as the law requires that helmets must be worn while riding the electric scooters. Riders will also be prohibited from using the scooters on sidewalks.

Startups Spin, Skip and Bird all confirmed their intention to apply for the pilot program. Another competitor, Lime, did not respond to KOIN 6 News' question about the application by the time of publication, but emails to Portland officials obtained through public records requests showed that the startup has been reaching out to the city for months.

(Those emails also revealed that Mayor Ted Wheeler met Lime team members while in Austin for the SXSW tech conference earlier this year; Chief of Staff Maurice Henderson wrote, "The Mayor enjoyed the electric scooters.")

Bike Portland editor and publisher Jonathan Maus shares a sense of enthusiasm for e-scooters. While he and other cyclists will likely be sharing bike lanes with the scooters, he said his experience trying out the scooters won him over.

"It has really huge potential to change how people get around, especially in the dense part of downtown," Maus said. "That's really where electric scooters can have the most impact."

PBOT will be charging pilot participants a fee of $5,000, with a per-trip surcharge of $0.25. The pilot, which is expected to last from July 23 through November 20, will allow for a maximum of 2,500 e-scooters, with between 100 and 200 scooters permitted per company. 

Spin co-founder and president Euwyn Poon said his company has already introduced its e-scooters in San Francisco, and will be launching in an as-yet-unannounced city on the East Coast next week. Poon says his company is already working to address Portland's concerns, working on product features to detect whether the scooters are being ridden on sidewalks and whether the riders are wearing helmets.

Given that the pilot has yet to begin, Brady said it's too early to say whether a successful test would mean that the city would award a contract to a single operator (similar in model to the BIKETOWN bike-sharing system), or whether a number of e-scooter companies would be granted permits.

Poon, for one, said he believes there's room on the road for multiple e-scooter startups.

"Because of how the permit system is evolving ... there are going to be multiple players, much like the airline industry," he said. 

The application period for the pilot program will close on July 12. 


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