Portland’s Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) found that electric scooter riders are using two-wheeled mobility devices instead of cars. That’s according to an agency survey completed recently of residents and visitors who rode scooters during the city’s pilot program. The data suggest similar scooter adoption and habits may be happening in DC.
Portland Surveyed 75K Scooter Riders and Got 4,500 Responses
“PBOT surveyed nearly 75,000 customers of Bird, Lime, and Skip, the three companies permitted to operate e-scooters in Portland.” That’s a pretty large sample size and the scope of the questions provide valuable insights. It asked users why they tried that transport mode, how they felt using it, and what would improve the experience.
The survey respondents rode Bird, Lime, or Skip scooters during Portland’s 120-day trial period with shared electric scooters. The pilot program ends on November 20th and the survey will inform policymakers’ discussion for a permanent rule structure. PDOT doesn’t disclose the full methodology. I wish they would because self-selected survey responses create huge bias effects unless you weigh results in some way. I can’t say this is a representative sample of Portland scooter riders during the pilot, nor a sample representative of Portland’s population.
Portland Scooter Riders Become Not-Drivers and That’s Good
Some things can be said by reviewing the summary results PDOT shared.
There’s an argument about the new shared mobility services like bikeshare and shared scooters. The basic sides are that the new modes cannibalize from the existing population, resident and tourists alike, most-likely to use non-car modes. The counter-argument is that these new modes actually pull people out of their cars or cabs/Uber/Lyft. This is important to resolve because nudging people out of car ownership, single-occupant commuting, and congestion-creating taxis is maybe the most important policy goal of urban transportation departments. With Portland, there’s new data for this mode-switching debate.
19 percent of survey respondents would’ve used their car if that scooter they took wasn’t available. 15 percent said they would’ve taken Ubers. That’s 34 percent of all the scooter riders polled saying scooter availability took cars off the street. That’s good.
Nine percent said they would’ve taken their own bikes or Portland’s docked bikeshare service. Ten percent said they would’ve taken Portland’s bus or rail transit network. That means 20 percent of scooter riders are being cannibalized by existing shared or non-car commute modes.
So, Portland’s scooter service is pulling more people out of cars than out of the existing transit and multi-modal network. Sounds like the scooters are doing their part pulling people out of cars? Yes, with a big caveat.
Portland Scooter Riders Are Just Lazy Pedestrians
More survey respondents than any other—37 percent—said they would’ve walked if the scooter had not been available. So, maybe scooters are allowing active people to become lazier than anything else? Well, yes. But, scooters are micro-mobility vehicles that really work well up to a mile or two. Those are distances people commonly walk when there isn’t an alternative.
But, the survey also shows that people would’ve driven the distance they covered in the scooter. If scooting instead of walking is lazy, driving when you could walk is a much worse thing. In fact, that’s exactly the worse thing Portland and other cities are trying to stop. In America, people don’t drive cars very far. Half of all car trips in America are within three miles and 28 percent are within one mile—one thousand, seven hundred sixty freaking imperial yards. If cities got people out of their cars for that shortest quarter of the trips, we’d be killing it.
Portland Scooter Riders Become Non-Car Commuters
6 percent of Portland’s scooter riders gave up their car because of the scooters being a commuting option. 5.7 percent to be exact. That means 257 real-life, not-statistically-inferred people, sold cars to scoot around Portland. Bird should put them in the damn ads. A bigger group of scootists, 16 percent, have considered giving their car up thanks to the scooter solution. 15 percent of scooterers didn’t own a car in the first place.
Asking people to remember things is generally not the best research design. People forget, misremember, and intentionally misstate lots of stuff in these surveys. That said, 39 percent of Portland’s survey respondents said they drove a car less after their first scooting experience. 15 percent of respondents walk less often. We see you, lazyheads.
Interestingly, 11 percent of the survey respondents walk more after using a scooter. Of all the travel modes, walking was encouraged most by scooters. The closest encouragement effect was transit, where 4 percent of people rode it more after trying scooters. This suggests scooters help re-frame urban travel and make people more willing to try non-car modes.
Bike Lanes Increase Scooter Use
Survey responses point to a path for increasing scooter use and counters the idea that scooter and bike use conflict when it comes to street design. 59 percent of respondents said increasing the number of scooters available would make them more likely to ride. Portland’s cap was 2,500 across the three companies, which is more than DC’s 400-vehicles per company. 44 percent said safer places to ride (e.g. bike lanes or paths separated from
vehicles) would make them ride more. Longer battery life and lower cost come in next at 34 and 30 percent, so get on it with newer models, scooter companies.
Those propensity to use factors match up with another survey question. 84 percent of Portland scootists got to their scooter by walking. The next closest category was getting to the scooter by car, at seven percent. That means walkable spaces and scooter presence need to fit together on the design of a streetscape. People aren’t going to ride these things unless they are parked where lots of people walk. That’s going to be a challenge when many of the biggest complaints about the scooters are that they block the sidewalk. PDOT and other cities need to design infrastructure that allows people to walk and park scooters at the same time.
People are Confused About Scooter Rules
77 percent of survey respondents said that scooters weren’t allowed to ride on the sidewalks in Portland. PDOT asked the question, apparently, to see if scooter users knew of the rules that applied to their scooting. However, 34 percent also thought scooters were banned in the street. That doesn’t make sense. 11 percent of people think scooters are illegal on sidewalks and the road. So, they rode the models that fly?
Why We Broke Down a Portland Survey
DC and Portland are pretty good comparable when it comes to scooters. Both cities are in a trial period with approvals for specific companies, caps on the number of vehicles, and plan to draft permanent regulations based on analysis of the pilot.
Portland’s survey includes about one thousand tourists who used a scooter while visiting Portland. DC gets a lot of tourists; probably more than Portland. But, including a sample of respondents with 25% tourists mixed in gives more comparable results to DC.
Portland has good bus and rail transportation with similarly expensive housing markets. So, home formation tradeoffs and therefore travel distances for commuting and recreation are relatively similar. We have Mambo Sauce and they have coffee, but this survey has great external validity.