Deploying and Rebalancing Dockless Bikeshare and Scootershare to Suburban Areas

I have a love-hate relationship with urban areas. While I love the urban lifestyle, I hate how challenging it has been to expand transportation services to suburban areas. As I wrote in this 2019 post, most of the focus throughout the US to plan for dockless bikeshare and scootershare has been on the largest cities. Even if governments in the Portland region want to expand the focus to suburban areas, are companies willing to expand to suburban areas?

Portland, OR Case Study

East Portland is a suburban area that the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) acknowledged in its 2018 E-Scooter Findings Report has “historically been underserved by the transportation system”. Since I will be referring to East Portland throughout this case study, please review the below map to make sure you know where East Portland is. As the other below map shows, East Portland has above average numbers of low-income people and people of color.

As the below scooter pilot fee schedule shows, one tool PBOT used to entice companies to deploy and rebalance scooters in East Portland was charging companies less for scooters that were located in East Portland. Companies were charged more for scooters that were located in urban areas like Central City.

To align business practices with Portland’s equity goals, PBOT also required companies to deploy at least 100 scooters or 20 percent of their fleet (whichever is less) in East Portland and offer a low-income fare. Only one company, Bird, complied with the East Portland fleet deployment requirements. Both Lime and Skip deployed below 90 percent of the minimum required scooters on average throughout the pilot. Companies only enrolled 43 Portlanders in the low-income plan. Along with Portland staff observations, this suggests low company performance in aligning business practices with Portland equity goals.

Only one company, Bird, complied with the East Portland fleet deployment requirements.

Source: 2018 E-Scooter Findings Report

While only Bird complied with the East Portland fleet deployment requirements, 243 scooters (9.8 percent of the total fleet for all three companies) were deployed to East Portland. 44,155 trips originated in East Portland during the first pilot period. This demonstrates the demand for additional transportation options. Since East Portland has suburban land uses compared to urban land uses in Central City, I believe trips in East Portland averaged 1.6 miles compared to one mile in Central City because origins and destinations are further apart in East Portland.

Due to it being a pilot program, I am impressed that PBOT actually enforced the rules. Even though this article does not state why Skip has not applied for PBOT’s second pilot program, which starts on April 26, being fined during the first pilot program likely discouraged Skip.

Over the course of the pilot period, PBOT issued two penalties, both to Skip Transport, Inc. One cited failure to meet East Portland fleet deployment requirements, and the other cited failure to meet the citywide deployment requirements outlined in the administrative rule and permit. Penalties were calculated for each day the company was out of compliance after a specified deadline.

Source: 2018 E-Scooter Findings Report

Since only Bird complied with the East Portland fleet deployment requirements during the first pilot, this likely caused PBOT to reduce the requirements for the second pilot. According to this article, “A minimum of 15 percent of a company’s total scooter fleet must be deployed east of I-205 (that’s down from a 20 percent minimum last pilot).” PBOT is also using a new carrot approach during the second pilot to entice companies to deploy scooters in East Portland. Companies will be allowed to increase the number of scooters in their fleet by 35% if they meet or exceed 2-3 trips per scooter per day.

Will suburban cities use Portland’s approach?

I have been asking people that work for suburban cities whether they plan to use Portland’s approach to regulating bikeshare and scootershare companies. Even though I have expressed my concern about them waiting to create regulations, everyone has told me that they plan to wait until Portland launches their second scooter pilot to see whether they need to create regulations. Since I do not want to embarrass any of my contacts, I purposely did not share which suburban cities I have been meeting with about this topic.

As I mentioned in my last post, Milwaukie is planning to allow companies to deploy scooters in Milwaukie soon after Portland launches its second pilot scooter program. I do not have scooter data for Milwaukie and assume scooter riders will use similar infrastructure as cyclists, so I reviewed bike trip data to understand where scooter trips likely will occur. Without any regulations to force companies to deploy and rebalance their scooters in low ridership areas, I predict companies will deploy and rebalance scooters in higher ridership areas. This approach will allow companies to make the most money on their investment.

Since Clackamas Community College’s Harmony campus is located in unincorporated Clackamas County just outside the southeast edge of Milwaukie’s city limit, I am concerned that companies will not supply enough scooters to Harmony campus to make this a reliable transportation service. Milwaukie is working on annexing Harmony campus into the city so Harmony campus will be within the city limit soon. Even when this happens the above map shows that most scooter trips will be in Downtown Milwaukie, which is 3.5 miles west of Harmony campus.

I am focused on Harmony campus because scooters could be used to make the first- and last-mile connection between Harmony campus, Clackamas Middle College and Clackamas Town Center. Since the CCC Xpress Shuttle only goes in a clockwise loop from Harmony campus to Clackamas Town Center, people have asked me to find another transportation service to go from Clackamas Town Center to Harmony campus. The shuttle service is not always frequent and does not operate every day, so people also want a more reliable transportation service from Harmony campus to Clackamas Town Center.

Harmony Campus to Clackamas Town Center

Source: Created by Ray Atkinson using Google Maps

While dock-based scootershare and bikeshare systems are more expensive than dockless scootershare and bikeshare systems, I believe a dock-based system would provide Harmony campus with more reliable transportation service. Since I doubt a dock-based system is an option, is it possible to entice the companies to deploy and rebalance dockless scooters to Harmony campus without government regulations?