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?

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Importance of Trails in Planning for Electric-Assist Dockless Bikeshare and Scootershare

The following post draws on my last post and this 2018 post. As the Portland region prepares for Portland’s second pilot scooter program that starts on April 26th and Milwaukie’s first pilot scooter program that should start this spring, the most used and safest infrastructure for Clackamas County scooter riders likely will prohibit scooters. Since trails are fully separated from automobile traffic, I consider trails to be the safest infrastructure for scooter and bike riders. Unfortunately, many trails in the Portland region prohibit e-scooters and e-bikes. While Jonathan Maus at BikePortland learned that Portland does not enforce this prohibition, the prohibition still creates legal issues for e-scooter and e-bike riders. The following quotes summarize the issues.

“If the City is serious about accomplishing its goals, it needs to act soon to allow at least some level of e-bike and e-scooter access to these areas by non-disabled Portlanders.” – Chris Thomas, Portland lawyer at Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost

“The Scooter Pilot and your question have had us looking closely at the code and the way people use (and would like to use) our public parks, while maintaining our focus on safety,” – Mark Ross, Public Information Officer at Portland Parks & Recreation

Source: BikePortland

As the below map shows, the region has many existing, planned and conceptual regional trails. While I am still researching the legal issue, I believe the only trail in the region that does not prohibit e-bikes and e-scooters is the Banks-Vernonia Trail, which is not located in Clackamas County. The State Parks Commission amended their rules in 2018 to legally allow e-bikes and scooters on paths and trails managed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD). According to OPRD’s website, the only trail in the region managed by OPRD is the Banks-Vernonia Trail. While the 40-Mile Loop Trail is listed on this website, I believe local jurisdictions like Portland manage it. Since many jurisdictions manage trails in the region, I hope OPRD and Metro educate all the local jurisdictions about the legal issue. I doubt e-bike and e-scooter users are aware of the legal issue, so we need to have regional legal consistency.

Do riders use trails more than bike lanes in Clackamas County?

Since I live and work in Clackamas County, which is located south of Portland, I focused on what infrastructure Clackamas County scooter and bike riders likely will use to travel. The region’s first scooter pilot program was legally limited to Portland and Portland did not release a map showing scooter rides south of Portland, so I do not have scooter data in Clackamas County yet. Scooter riders typically use the same infrastructure as cyclists, so I analyzed where cyclists currently ride in Clackamas County (left map). While bike lanes exist in Clackamas County, cyclists mostly use trails. In case you are not familiar with the trails, the trail system (right map) shows the same area as the left map. Since I believe all of the regional trails within these maps prohibit e-scooters and e-bikes, how will the jurisdictions that manage these trails approach enforcing their prohibitions? Will they change their policies to allow e-scooters and e-bikes?

Clackamas County Ride Report

Bike trips are mostly along trails. Source: Ride Report

Clackamas County Trails

Solid green lines are existing trails. Source: Metro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legal Issues in Washington, DC Region

The legal issues are not limited to the Portland region. Since I lived and worked on transportation issues in the DC region last year, I have been following the legal issues in the DC region. NOVA Parks, which owns and operates many trails in Northern Virginia, unanimously amended their rules in March 2019 to allow e-bikes on trails such as the popular Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail. Across the Potomac River in Maryland, the Montgomery County Planning Board is considering whether to allow e-bikes and e-scooters on county trails. Dockless e-bikeshare and e-scootershare and Capital Bikeshare Plus (e-bikes) already exist in Montgomery County, but people have been riding on county trails even though it is not legal. The DC region has many more jurisdictions, so the legal issues are not resolved yet. Are you seeing similar legal issues where you live?

 

Living Car-Free in American Suburb

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly. I am currently living car-free in the American suburb of Oregon City, which is located at the southern edge of the Portland, OR region.

Portland Region Map

Oregon City is located at the southern edge of the Portland region. I live and work in southern Oregon City. Source: AARoads

I will admit that I did not envision living and working in a suburb similar to my childhood hometown of Kannapolis, NC when I moved from Kannapolis to Charlotte in August 2009 to start undergrad at UNC Charlotte. Since I hated feeling forced to drive an automobile for every trip in Kannapolis and loved the freedom of many transportation choices in Charlotte, I never imagined returning to a suburb after graduating from UNC Charlotte. As I hope this post shows you, returning to a suburb may have been the best decision for my career.

While I still prefer living in an urban area and miss living in Arlington, VA’s award-winning Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, I feel I am making a much bigger difference working in the suburb of Oregon City than I could have made working in a big city. This is mostly because I am the only transportation planner at Clackamas Community College (CCC) and one of the few active transportation planners in Oregon City.

I worked or interned in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Portland (OR), and the DC region, so I am confident that if I worked in a large city I would be in a large transportation department with many staff working on active transportation planning issues. While I am not trying to devalue the work that planners do in big cities, especially since they have to work on more complex issues than I have in Oregon City, how much difference does EACH of these planners have in creating change in their big city?

Since I am an entry-level transportation planner, I keep thinking about how much more difference I am making in Oregon City than I could have made as an entry-level transportation planner among many entry-level transportation planners in a big city. While I have to get permission to do things like apply for grants, I have been given plenty of professional freedom so far to pursue what I feel would be useful for improving multimodal transportation choices at CCC. This also means that I have to be more responsible for the decisions I make because I am the only transportation planner. Since I was micromanaged at a previous job (purposely not giving specifics because I do not want to embarrass a previous employer) and this overwhelmed my supervisor and me, I am thankful my current supervisor is not micromanaging me.

While I wrote earlier how Oregon City is a similar suburb to my childhood hometown of Kannapolis, Oregon City has much better active transportation access to Portland than Kannapolis has to Charlotte. After biking from my home in southern Oregon City to Downtown Oregon City on almost completely connected bike lanes, signed bike routes and sharrows, I can ride on almost completely connected trails all the way to Downtown Portland. The regional version of the below trails map can be found here. I actually helped create this map during my internship at Oregon Metro.

Portland to Oregon City Trails Map

Regional trails between Oregon City and Downtown Portland. Source: Oregon Metro

The below map shows most of the bike infrastructure between Oregon City and Downtown Portland. Since Portland’s famous neighborhood greenways and Oregon City’s signed bike routes and sharrows aren’t shown at this zoom level, I wanted to note that this is missing from the below map.

Portland to Oregon City Bike Map

Bike infrastructure between Oregon City and Downtown Portland. Source: Google Maps

Unless I rarely wanted to visit Charlotte or spend lots of time and money on transferring between multiple transit systems in the Charlotte region (I can take unlimited trips on TriMet’s light rail lines and buses throughout the Portland region for $5/day), I could not have lived car-free in Kannapolis. While the Carolina Thread Trail is working to connect trails throughout the Charlotte region and I volunteered to help create the Carolina Thread Trail Map, it is not possible today to use trails or any other bike infrastructure to bike between Downtown Kannapolis and Uptown Charlotte. Since Charlotte’s bike lanes, signed bike routes and sharrows are not shown at this zoom level, I wanted to note that this is missing from the below map.

Charlotte to Kannapolis Bike Map

Bike infrastructure between Uptown Charlotte and Downtown Kannapolis. Source: Google Maps

Oregon City has good biking and transit access to Portland, so I have been able to visit Portland frequently without driving. While some people in Oregon City have suggested I should buy a car so I can travel quicker, owning and maintaining a car is expensive. Plus, my job literally involves helping people to reduce car dependency. I can currently motivate people to reduce car dependency by telling them that it is possible to live car-free in a suburb like Oregon City because I live car-free here. How would they react if I told them I gave up and purchased a car for the first time in my life?

While I live car-free in my personal life, I cannot reach all my work trips by walking, biking and riding transit. Since I did not want to buy a car for work trips, my supervisor helped me reserve the below hybrid electric car, which CCC owns. This car is only available during the summer term because students learn how to reconstruct the car during other terms. Due to this, I have had to use expensive transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft to travel for work trips during the rest of the year. Even though I was nervous about whether my supervisor would support my car-free lifestyle, he has been very supportive.

I have so far driven the hybrid electric car to and from the Clackamas County Coordinating Committee (C4) Meeting near Mt Hood. Since this was the first time I drove after moving back to Oregon and I didn’t drive much when I lived in Virginia, I had to adjust to driving again. I have always been a slow driver, but Oregon drivers have been proven to be among the nation’s slowest drivers so I fit in.

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Hybrid electric car provided for work trips. Photo: Ray Atkinson

As my below Instagram post shows, the C4 Meeting provided me with good insights into Clackamas County’s transportation priorities. Unfortunately for my work to reduce car dependency, widening I-205 is definitely the top priority. Oregon DOT (ODOT), which presented about the I-205 toll and widening project during the C4 Meeting, has been trying to get support for widening I-205 by saying this will reduce traffic congestion. While traffic congestion may be reduced in the short-term, induced demand has shown that widening highways never reduced traffic congestion in the long-term. This is why ODOT needs to use the I-205 toll revenue to fund active transportation projects, which have been proven to reduce traffic congestion on highways. If ODOT is looking for an existing program to review, I recommend the I-66 Commuter Choice Program because revenue from the I-66 toll in Northern Virginia is directly funding active transportation projects in Northern Virginia.

I have not decided what my next blog post will be about, but it will probably be something about what I am experiencing in Oregon. Thank you for reading my blog!

Moving Back to Oregon to Work at Clackamas Community College

I’m excited to share that after submitting 127 job applications over the past seven months I have accepted a written offer to become the Transportation Systems Analyst at Clackamas Community College (CCC) in Oregon City! A short position description is below. The position is grant funded from Oregon Metro through June 30, 2019. Oregon Metro is offering the grant again and CCC plans to reapply for it.

Develop and implement strategies to expand transportation options and remove transportation barriers.  Refine and operationalize strategies outlined in the Transportation Management Plan.  Develop and implement transportation survey tools.  Gather and analyze transportation metrics for use in developing new transportation strategies.  Act as liaison with local, regional, and state government partners; work cooperatively to create transportation plans and projects that reflect the needs of the College.

Since CCC wants me to start working in June, I’ll be resigning from my full-time, temporary Urban Planner I position at the City of Alexandria, VA on May 18. I plan to move back to the Portland region soon after Memorial Day, which is in time to participate in Pedalpalooza. I’ll miss my East Coast family and friends. Thankfully, I’ll be able to catch up with many of them during my upcoming trips to Boston, Charlotte area, Erie, and Cleveland area. Since I was in grad school when I previously lived in Oregon from 2014-16, I’m looking forward to having more free time to explore the West Coast.

You may be wondering why I chose the below photo for the featured photo. Since CCC’s three campuses are located in three Portland suburbs and my new supervisor said no one has organized a group bike ride at CCC, my future job at CCC reminds me of when I co-founded and led the Cyclists Club at UNC Charlotte (UNCC). Even though I wasn’t hired by UNCC to work on transportation issues, I felt I was the de facto bike coordinator because this position didn’t exist. I’m excited to use what I learned working on transportation issues at UNCC to improve CCC.

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Ray organized and led slow Cyclists Club ride at UNC Charlotte on February 14, 2013

Since I took an Internet GIS course at UNCC during Spring 2013 and created the below interactive bike resource map with my teammate during this course, I’m planning to see whether CCC wants me to create a similar interactive map for CCC. While I’m impressed CCC’s transportation page includes walking, biking, transit, and carpooling, I’m looking forward to working with staff to improve it.

UNC Charlotte Bicycle Resource Page

Ray and Jacob created the UNC Charlotte Bicycle Resource Map in Spring 2013

You may have noticed that I focused on my UNCC experience before my Portland State University (PSU) experience. I did this on purpose because transportation planning and overall transportation behavior at PSU is so far ahead of CCC. PSU is a Platinum-Level Bicycle Friendly University, which is the highest level that has been awarded. While I offered during my interview that I could help CCC apply to become a Bicycle Friendly University, which is also open to colleges, CCC currently isn’t a Bicycle Friendly University. UNCC also wasn’t a Bicycle Friendly University until it applied for the first time in 2017 and was awarded the Bronze Level, which is the lowest level, so UNCC and CCC share many things in common.

Even though I want my ideas for CCC to be context sensitive, this doesn’t mean I can’t think about what I did at PSU. As this BikePortland post and the below photos show, Gerald and I organized a successful Bike PSU outreach event at PSU during Fall 2015. We organize this outreach event to start creating bike trains. Since we had difficulty finding a method to connect bike train participants while preserving their privacy and finding participants with similar class schedules that lived nearby each other, we weren’t able to start a bike train at PSU. I expect to have similar challenges organizing bike trains at CCC, but one big difference is I’ll be a permanent employee at CCC. I had to stop organizing bike trains at PSU when I graduated in June 2016.

bike-psu-cofounders

Ray and Gerald organized Bike PSU’s outreach event during Fall 2015 (Photo: Michael Andersen/BikePortland)

psu-bike-pins

PSU student participating in Bike PSU’s outreach event during Fall 2015 (Photo: Michael Andersen/BikePortland)

Yes, I realize I have focused mostly on biking and my new job involves working on more than just biking. As my previous post shows, I have multimodal transportation experience. My PSU team did our planning workshop project on walkability in Tigard, which is a suburb of Portland.

Since I’ve never been to CCC or Oregon City, I’m excited to explore a new area of the Portland region. Due to Oregon City being the first permanent Euro-American settlement in the Willamette Valley, first incorporated city west of the Rocky Mountains, and Oregon’s first capital (Oregon City was selected the capital before the creation of the Oregon Territory in 1848), Oregon City isn’t really new. I’m excited to learn more Oregon history by visiting the Museum of the Oregon Territory, which overlooks Willamette Falls in Oregon City.