Eugene’s e-scooter program rolls into its fifth month, with some bumps along the way
The City of Eugene’s e-scooter program has been up and rolling for nearly five months.
Eugene hopes shared e-scooters can be part of its strategy to reduce fossil fuel use. For example, Eugene’s 2035 transportation plan calls for tripling the number of trips made by public transit, biking, or walking.
Karen Mason is the city’s Transportation Planner. She said ridership has exceeded expectations. In fact, its popularity caused some initial speed bumps. Mason said when the program began in late March, the service area covered nearly the entire city limits. “But due to that higher-than-anticipated demand," she said, "really just to try to help get our feet better under us to be able to deliver the level of service that we want to deliver, and is expected of us to deliver, we temporarily reduced that service area.”
The boundaries of the program remain reduced.
Here’s how the system works: A company called Superpedestrian provides the scooters and the digital interfaces. Local nonprofit Cascadia Mobility relocates, repairs and recharges the scooters.
Cascadia Mobility also operates the blue PeaceHealth Rides bikes. Cascadia CEO Brodie Hylton said bike rentals have not decreased since the scooters were added.
“So what we’re doing with scooter share is like, addressing an entirely unmet need or an unmet demand for active transportation, ride share transportation," he said. "People that, for whatever reason, aren’t getting on a bike share bike but are interested in using the scooters.”
Hylton said so far, the biggest sore spot is when riders don’t park the scooters correctly after they’re done using them. He thinks the city missed an opportunity.
“The city council sort of decided they wanted to do an e-scooter share pilot and then it was rolled out." he said, adding, "I think a lot of the challenges that we’re facing from a public perception standpoint stem from that lack of engagement in the beginning.”
Karen Mason agreed the city could have done more outreach on where to leave scooters at the end of a trip.
She gave the following tips: “Don’t park it in the middle of a sidewalk, in the middle of a bike lane, in the middle of the street, in front of a doorway, in a driveway…. Basically, if you think you might be blocking somebody from easily moving around, don’t park it that way.”
Mason said the tricky thing about sidewalks is some are narrower than others. She said if there’s only one square of concrete, it’s not wide enough to park a scooter.
Riders are credited a dollar if they leave a scooter in a preferred location. Mason said there are 38 parking stations now, and another 24 sites are going through an approval process. She said the parking violation system is changing as well, in hopes of curbing bad behavior. Currently, riders get two warnings before facing a fine. Soon, the fine will follow just one warning.
Regarding safety, Mason said as of the end of July, with over 100,000 rides, there were five self-reported collisions, including three injuries. She didn't have information about traffic citations for shared e-scooter riders, nor did a Traffic Safety Officer for the Eugene Police.
I rented a scooter this summer and took it for a spin around my neighborhood. It said near the handlebars that riders have to be 18 or older and wear a helmet, and riding on sidewalks isn’t allowed.
Logging into the Superpedestrian app and paying took less than three minutes. I learned the scooter had more than three hours left on the battery, and my first ride would be “speed limited.” I knew scooters aren’t allowed to exceed 15 miles per hour, a limit that's lower in certain areas. But as I got going, I noticed there’s not a speedometer on the scooter. I couldn't tell how fast I was going.
It turns out the scooter didn't need a speedometer, because technology called "geofencing" keeps it from exceeding the allowable speed. And GPS technology keeps scooters from getting closer than 200 feet to the Willamette River or Amazon Creek.
The ride seemed expensive. My 19-minute trip cost me $9.41, though I later learned I could have signed up for a $5 daily pass. The city offers a “link up” program in which anyone on any public assistance gets a 70 percent discount.
Mason said the geofencing and tracking devices are effective, but they’ve lost a couple of scooters. She also said, “There have been some people who are so against the scooter program that they will take the scooters, bring them into their home and hold them for ransom.”
Maybe that’s because of the public perception problem Brodie Hylton alluded to.
The program is a one-year trial, and the city will run two interim assessments. The first one is coming up, and might help to give Eugeneans more input on shared e-scooters. Starting the first week of September, residents can find a survey online at the city’s “Engage Eugene” website.
Mason also wanted to dispel one assumption she's heard from the public.
“The program is not funded through taxpayer dollars," she said. "It is self-sustainable through fees that Superpedestrian is paying to the city.”