Over the years I have written a lot about the way bikes, pedestrians, cars and public transport all interact on Portland’s streets. In recent weeks something new has joined this mix: e-scooters. As a technology, these have been around for several years they are now appearing around Portland in far greater numbers after the city’s Bureau of Transportation issued permits to two e-scooter rental companies at the end of last month.
According to local TV station KGW, “the introduction of e-scooters is part of the PBOT’s shared scooter pilot program, which will last through November 20. As part of the 120-day program, permitted companies will be able to offer scooters for rent. The total number of permitted scooters will be capped at 2,500… People can rent a scooter through an app and drop it off anywhere in the city when they are finished.”
That all sounds simple and straightforward enough, but, as is so often the case, the details look a lot more complicated. During its recently completed 2018 session the Oregon legislature modified a lengthy list of statutes related to e-scooters (click here for the complete list). Unfortunately, when one looks at the actual text (see links below) several sections are frustratingly vague.
As some of the links below outline, a section of particular concern to local activists is ORS 814.524: Unsafe operation of motor assisted scooter on sidewalk. As a general rule, ORS 814 treats e-scooters like bicycles: their operators are required to stay off highways, observe speed limits. Users of e-scooters are also required to wear helmets in most situations (ORS 814.534). They are supposed to use bike lanes when these are available. ORS 814.524 requires that e-scooters stay off sidewalks “except to enter and leave adjacent property.” Most people would read that sentence as permitting e-scooters to cross a sidewalk in the process of entering or exiting a driveway and nothing more. But, as a recent post on BikePortland’s website outlines, the wording is sufficiently vague that it is already being cited as effective permission to operate e-scooters on many city sidewalks.
The law is similarly vague on how rental e-scooters should be stored. Unlike traditional bike share programs the e-scooter rental schemes offered in Oregon do not utilize docking stations. Instead, registered users can simply leave the scooters wherever they wish (independent contractors scoop them up off the streets to charge the vehicles overnight). As KGW notes “scooters are supposed to be parked on sidewalks, close to curbs so they don’t impact pedestrians.” But ORS 814 has almost nothing to say about where the scooters should be when they are not in use.
As a Portland attorney who has long worked on behalf of the cycling community as well as representing pedestrians who have been injured by drivers failing to take the proper care and precautions, I am worried by the number of issues that still seem to need clarification regarding e-scooters. These vehicles are potentially an excellent, environmentally-friendly, addition to our city. But if thousands of them are about to appear on our streets as rental vehicles, the current four-month pilot program will require careful monitoring and assessment as we decide the best way for the city to move forward.
The Oregonian: Portland’s e-scooter trial rolling along and ramping up
BikePortland: Opinion: Helmets, sidewalks, Segways, other thoughts on e-scooters
ORS 814.512: Unlawful operation of motor assisted scooter