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Portland pilot has lessons for Lime-friendly NZ cities

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 17 January 2019, 8:31 am

Lime e-scooters have caught the public attention, and barely a day goes by without a media update - good and bad. But what value do e-scooters bring? how can they help our cities become more sustainable, and do we want to encourage more operators?

E-scooter companies like Lime are operating in dozens of cities, and there is much to learn from their experiences. A good place to start is Portland in the US.

When Portland was approached by e-scooter companies about launching on their streets it decided to conduct a four-month trial. Three e-scooter services were chosen for the pilot, including Lime which has launched here. Each company was required to share its data, so the city could determine how and where its citizens were using the service.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) this week released a report on the trial which ended in November. While it is inconclusive (the main finding is it needs another pilot), it makes for some interesting reading in this country. Lime has now launched in five cities around the country, and Auckland City Council is extending Lime's trial  to the end of March (the Council's release notes that Lime was to be joined by a couple of other e-scooter operators, but this hasn't eventuated).

The PBOT was interested to see if e-scooters would contribute to achieving the city's four transportation objectives. Here they are with a brief summary of the results.

Reduce traffic congestion by shifting trips away from private motor vehicle use

A survey showed that 34% e-scooter riders would have used a car, Uber/Lyft or taxi, and 6% reported getting rid of a because of e-scooters. But it was difficult to determine the extent of overall impact on the transport system.

Prevent fatalities and serious injuries on Portland streets

In Portland e-scooters can't be driven on footpaths (unlike in NZ cities) although it was found that many flouted this law. Also, helmets are required, but this too was flouted. Scooter-related injuries accounted for 5% of total traffic crash injury visits to hospitals during the pilot period.

Expand access to opportunities for underserved Portlanders

The three operators were required to deploy 100 e-scooters in East Portland, which has less public transport infrastructure. The report notes that although some operators didn't always fulfil this requirement, rides in this area were on average longer than those in the CBD.

Reduce air pollution, including climate pollution

While early findings showed that e-scooters reduced car trips, more data is required to find out if e-scooters contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gases.

After 120 days, there were 700,369 trips recorded, with 2043 scooters deployed by three operators in Portland, which has a population of around 650,000. It's a bit hard to compare, but Lime reported that in December, which showed that after seven weeks there were over 500,000 rides in cities with a population of 1.614 million (Auckland) and 374,900 (Christchurch) combined.

What's impressive about this trial is that the PBOT has made the collection of data from the pilot operators a condition of the license and they have spent time working with the public through focus groups, surveys and online forums to gather an informed idea about how e-scooters contribute a city's overall goals.

Given the huge amount of public interest in Lime scooters, it would be good to see New Zealand councils adopt a similar approach by actively seeking out the public's feedback, measuring the benefits of e-scooters against a set of objectives, and reporting back in a way that creates meaningful discussion.


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