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Portland Transportation Bureau Retracts Tweet Calling Electric Scooters “Toys” for “Tech Bros”

E-scooters are attracting riders in cities all over the country. But they still struggle with legitimacy issues. Image: Portland Bureau of Transportation

Portland transportation officials were red-faced this week after an unnamed staffer disparaged e-scooters as "toys" for lazy "tech bros" just as the city's pilot scooter program went live.

The unidentified official took to the Portland Bureau of Transportation's Twitter account after a resident complained the city should be doing more to promote scooters to help achieve climate goals.

Or maybe they’re toys that tech bros leave lazily strewn about, blocking corner ramps needed for people with disabilities. Also, people need to know the helmet laws for scooters are different than for bicycles. We’ll see how it goes during this pilot period!

— Portland Bureau of Transportation (@PBOTinfo) July 26, 2018

The agency, which began its program with e-scooters from Skip, Limebike and Bird this week, quickly apologized for the Tweet, saying it "does not represent the views of our bureau."

"We’re excited to welcome scooters as a new transportation option into our city and to see what we can learn from this pilot," the account added.

But the tweet underscores the problem scooters have in being viewed as legitimate transportation option within the transportation hierarchy, despite lapping up wads of venture capital. The Beverly Hills City Council recently voted to ban them. Local police had been hassling scooter users for minor things like not wearing helmets. The LA Times reports a few scatter users had been involved in traffic collisions.

But as many aggravated Twitter users pointed out yesterday in response to PBOT, cars are killing people by the hundreds across the U.S. with no backlash. Cities do have to be on alert for parking problems that could create accessibility challenges in cities. But the safety concerns, compared to traveling through densely populated cities in cars and trucks, seem minor.

In addition, some of the data doesn't support the idea that the scooters mostly appeal to wealthy young men. And independent study by the research group Populus found that e-scooters have high favorability ratings, and that was even more so for lower-income groups. (It did show, however, that men were much more likely to try them than women.)

There is also evidence that dockless scooters are popular. The city of Charlotte reports 20,000 people tried e-scooters in the city during June [PDF]. The Charlotte Agenda reports that scooters have quickly overtaken dockless bikes in Charlotte, and that dockless firms were making an estimated $324 per bike during the month. That, combined with the aforementioned venture capital rush, means we could see much more scooters in cities, and fast. (Lime Bike Chief Programs Officer Scott Kubly recently told Streetsblog NYC that he thinks the future is in e-scooters.)

Cities have a responsibility to promote clear sidewalks. But they should also be working hard to encourage this congestion-reducing form of transportation. That might mean access to public space or other infrastructure. But public agencies shouldn't be ridiculing people for availing themselves of an affordable and convenient tool that is well-suited for short trips.

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