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Portland has proof that e-scooters are taking cars off streets

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City officials in Portland were worried last year that their city, like many others, could face a deluge of uninvited e-scooters on their streets.

Half a year later, the results of a four-month trial are likely to be seen as good news for scooter companies looking to prove their systems can hold up to the lofty promises of reducing congestion and pollution.

Some 700,369 scooter trips were made during the trial, covering 801,887 miles on 2,043 e-scooters, according to the data published by Portland’s Department of Transportation on Tuesday. And 34% of residents and 48% of visitors used a scooter in place of a personal car or ride-hailing app.

This study is one of the first times we have insight into how scooters can integrate into a city’s transportation network.

“The e-scooter pilot showed the potential of a small, light, electric, shared vehicle to move people quickly and easily without adding to Portland traffic,” the DOT said in a press release. “At the same time, the pilot revealed several areas where more work is needed to integrate e-scooters safely and smoothly into the fabric of our city.”

Portland notably has a larger bike lane network than most American cities, with plans to add more protected lanes in the coming months. That will likely be welcome news for scooter companies, especially those like Lyft, which owns Portland’s bike share network, and has openly advocated for safer streets through the expansion of infrastructure like bike lanes.

Read more: Scooter startup Bird is suing Beverly Hills after racking up more than $100,000 in fines from the city’s ban

But the study shows another pitch from scooter companies is proving to be a more difficult problem: transportation equity.

Despite requiring operators to locate at least 100 scooters in East Portland and offer discounted fares to low-income Oregonians, only 43 residents enrolled in the offerings.

“While many East Portlanders and Black Portlanders expressed enthusiasm for e-scooters, some focus group participants also expressed an overall concern for traffic safety and the risk that Black e-scooter riders would be targeted for racial profiling and harassment,” the DOT said.

Lime, Bird and Skip were all permitted as part of the trial. And one company, Lime, is pushing back on those requirements.

“That is not letting the market determine how many scooters should be anywhere,” said Gabriel Scheer, Lime’s director of strategic development, told the New York Times. “How do you unfetter us in a way that allows us to meet demand?”

Based on the results, Portland will implement a second pilot this year in order to collect more data and “test innovative solutions” to some specific instances of rule-breaking. The survey showed that, while scooters are illegal in Portland parks, two-thirds of riders were unaware of the rules. This “presented a significant management challenge,” for parks staff, the city said.

Scooters will be back on the ground again in the early spring, the report said, when the department will “specifically focus [its] efforts on improving equitable access across the city and ensuring safe and legal riding and parking.”

In a statement, Lime said its looking forward to participating in the second pilot.

“The release of today’s report by PBOT affirms Lime’s own experience here in Portland: that for locals and visitors alike, scooters helped shift commuters’ behavior, replacing large numbers of car trips, enabling them to move more freely around their city, and lessening congestion and pollution in the meantim,” Jeremy Nelson, the company’s general manager for Oregon, said.

“Lime deeply values our partnership with PBOT and the people of Portland, and we are encouraged by the report’s findings and recommendations to re-initiate scooter services here. We intend to re-launch operations in Portland as soon as we are allowed to do so, and Lime remains committed to safety, access and the environment both here and across the globe.”

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