Scooters Face Growing Pains

Illustration by Gabrielle Campbell.

In the past year, electric scooters have become a fun, fast, and more sustainable alternative to driving in Portland. However, since their introduction last year, one glaring problem has emerged: scooters are making life more difficult for people with disabilities. To help raise awareness for scooter safety, popular e-scooter company Lime has partnered with PBOT, Rooted in Rights, and Disability Rights Oregon to produce a short video. 

The video was released on December 3, which is the United Nations’ International Day of Disabled Persons. It features real people with disabilities confessing how scooters make it more difficult for them to navigate Portland’s Streets. One woman, Emily, describes how people with low vision have a hard time maneuvering when scooters are parked in the middle of the sidewalk. “The number one thing an older person does not want to do is fall,” says another woman, Jonie. “If you come through at a fast pace, that causes us to stumble.”

These concerns have been raised since the beginning of the scooter pilot program last year but were further amplified when Disability Rights Oregon composed a letter to PBOT detailing their key concerns about the e scooter pilot program. “We are deeply concerned the City of Portland’s e-scooter pilot program has undergone insufficient vetting, continues to lack an open and transparent public process, and has not sufficiently considered how use of these motorized vehicles respect the civil rights and safety of people with disabilities, older Oregonians, and others who are entitled to equal access to our public spaces,” the letter states. 

The group cited the fact that individuals were instructed to report complaints directly to the scooter companies rather than the city of Portland. As a result, they claimed that “Compan[ies] may be incentivized to downplay the seriousness of any complaints when they transmit ‘minimal’ required data to PBOT as part of the pilot.” In May, Disability Rights Oregon’s Legal Director Emily Cooper and Staff Attorney Matthew Denney did a Facebook Live session about their e-scooter advocacy work. In the live session, Cooper mentions the 600 complaints the city of Portland received about scooters in the first four months of the pilot program alone and encourages citizens to express their complaints to city officials. Despite the group’s push for a more effective system to monitor complaints, the city continues to request that feedback be directed to the scooter companies themselves.

These issues are not limited to Portland. E-scooters have been introduced to over 100 cities worldwide, several of which have already placed major restrictions on e-scooter companies including New York City, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. In spite of these restrictions, e-scooter companies are thriving. Lime is now valued at more than 1.1 billion dollars with locations all across the globe. As for Portland, Lime’s Director of Strategic Development for the Pacific Northwest, Jonathan Hopkins, stated that the company “saw an opportunity to do something meaningful” with the release of the video and plans on distributing it across all its markets. This partnership is likely only the beginning as alternative transportation is embraced globally.

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