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

Red-faced officials had only just launched their e-scooter program.

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

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

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.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Dissenting opinion: I’m trying to keep an open mind on this issue, but due to their high potential for theft, vandalism, and sidewalk clutter, and sidewalk riding, dockless scooters may not be a good solution for big cities. Do we have to embrace every venture-capital backed shared-mobility device that comes around the pike just because it’s not a car?

  • Michael

    The tech bros should get permits before dropping these on city streets.

    We could disrupt the building trades today: no permits. Health care: no degrees. Chemical refining: dump in the river. Then just lawyer up and get the rules changed. This is “disruption.” It’s a criminal enterprise.

    There’s a reason a civil society creates rules.

  • rwy

    So you’d be fine with them if they had a lock to requirement?

  • Cynara2

    Oh, the tweet is a travesty! But “a few scattered traffic collisions,” meaning they are creaming pedestrians is no big deal. What a mentality. Give pedestrians back the sidewalks. This is ridiculous.

  • Cynara2

    SIDEWALKS ARE FOR PEDESTRIANS. “Probably the most distressing story came from a Westside tech entrepreneur who did not want me to use her name because she is contemplating suing Bird. She and her 7-year-old son were walking on a sidewalk at UCLA when a Bird rider crashed into her at full speed, briefly knocking her unconscious. “My bad,” she recalled the young man saying before he rode away. Her doctor likened the force of impact to being tackled by a football player.

    Her concussion has caused her to miss work and lose money. “I’m sure they are going to say they have zero liability if someone behaves irresponsibly,” she told me. “But if they know it’s a somewhat dangerous product, isn’t it evil of them to do that?”

    In emails she provided to me, she asked Bird to identify the rider to her and ban him from future use. Bird would only say that it had taken appropriate measures, and refused to divulge the rider’s name or any other information to her.

    (A Bird spokeswoman told me the company investigates all complaints but does not reveal rider data “absent a formal legal process.”)”
    http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-abcarian-bird-scourge-20180706-story.html

  • TourDeBoulder

    I’ll take dockless Scooters and dockless bikes over dockless killer cars.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    That would address the theft, vandalism, and clutter issues but not sidewalk riding. Whether residents would appreciate seeing hundreds of scooters locked to street furniture in downtown areas is another question, and there’s also the issue of taking up parking spaces for bikes.

    And where do we draw the line? Electric skateboards are already fairly popular. If some VC-funded company wants to risk scores of millions of dollars scattering these around urban areas, do we have to act like that’s a good thing, just because they might replace some car trips? (And it’s likely many people are probably using electric scooters and skateboards to avoid walking rather than to avoid traveling in a car.)

    Don’t get me wrong, I believe we should give new shared-mobility tech a chance to prove itself, provided that residents and their representatives calling the shots about how it’s rolled out, rather than companies “disrupting” the streetscape, which seems to be their default strategy. But we can’t attribute the backlash against dockless scooters and bikes solely to “the lack of legitimacy given to transportation modes that aren’t cars.”

  • Jason

    If America didn’t have so many absurdly narrow sidewalks then a single poorly-parked scooter, which has a footprint smaller than that of a bicycle, wouldn’t be enough to block a sidewalk.

  • Jason

    It doesn’t say one way or the other whether people on scooters hit pedestrians. I assumed it was a collision involving a car, as those are the handful of collisions involving people on scooters I’ve heard about. Example: http://www.smdp.com/bird-rider-suffers-head-trauma-in-wilmont-car-crash/166207

  • rwy

    Sidewalk riding is caused by insufficient bike lanes. Not really the fault of Bird or Limebike. (And sidewalk riding is a problem with bikes, even in areas where it is illegal.)

    Whether or not you would consider scooters to be clutter, now that’s a matter of opinion.

    I’m a bit confused as to why they’re banned from public transportation in Portland. Shouldn’t you be able to bring a folding scooter wherever you can bring a folding bike?

  • Flatlander

    I don’t mind them, but are they really “congestion-reducing”? I doubt if even one percent of scooter trips would otherwise be taken in a car.

  • com63

    I’ve ridden a scooter in lieu of an uber/lyft many times. They are great for 1-2 mile trips.

  • com63

    Cities that care about Vision Zero should have daylit intersections with 20-30ft between the corner and the first parking spot. They should take advantage of this practice to require scooters be parked in the street in this zone. No parking on sidewalks. Park the scooters in the street in this zone.

  • thielges

    My commute is too long to do solely on a scooter, but when combined with transit it works just fine. In fact every day I see commuters bring scooters on the train. Of the remaining trips (errands), about 80% are easily within the range of a scooter.

  • Stephen Simac

    sounds like a legal process could at least reveal the hit run scooter ID, whereas hit and run motor vehicles often are never identified, even with fatalities. Pedestrians need to organize and protect sidewalks against their constant encroachment of cyclists, scooters, parked cars, signs, etc..We’re really third class citizens on foot, but everyone becomes a pedestrian at some point..

  • Stephen Simac

    Lack of education for cyclists and motorists on how to safely share the road causes bike riders to incorrectly assume that they’re safer on sidewalks, but they have their own hazards as do bike lanes. Pedestrians haven’t been as organized as cyclists in demanding their space be improved and not encroached on.

  • happykt

    These scooters all over downtown Austin and are often blocking sidewalks and the areas next to the crosswalks. And I’ve yet to see anyone but white males driving scooters around downtown Austin.

  • Cynara2

    Wrong. That sentence links to an article in the LA Times, which talks about hitting pedestrians, specifically.

  • It mostly comes down to etiquette. In SF, cyclists demanded and got their dedicated/protected bike lanes, but many choose instead to ride in traffic, on sidewalks, ride against the flow of traffic, disobey traffic laws, etc. Drivers ignore no left turns or stop signs. Peds cross intersections against the light while staring down at their phones. All are to blame to some degree.

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