Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Sept. 23, 2020

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In Our View: E-scooters offer plenty of pros — and cons

The Columbian

As Vancouver City Council members study the possibility of bringing electric scooters to the area, the benefits are easy to see. So, unfortunately, are the drawbacks.

E-scooters have become the cool, go-to transportation alternative for municipalities. Programs have been started in Portland, Spokane, Tacoma and other cities along the West Coast. E-scooters are essentially electric bicycles that allow users to get around without the pedaling. Commuters rent them for one-way trips using app-based technology and then leave them on the sidewalk for the next renter.

The benefit is an easily attainable transportation alternative. Residents of major cities have embraced e-scooters for quick trips to the nearest bus stop or the store a mile away. The scooters also provide what can be a fun, invigorating alternative for visitors. Whether those benefits are applicable to a midsized city such as Vancouver will require additional study.

Through it all, the scooters provide easy parking and theoretically help reduce the emissions created by reducing vehicle traffic.

That being said, it seems the list of drawbacks is even more lengthy than a rundown of the benefits. In Portland, somebody — or perhaps many somebodies — has found the scooters to be such a nuisance that more than 50 of the devices were pulled from the Willamette River this summer near the seawall at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

That probably is no surprise, considering the frequent complaints about riders interfering with pedestrians on sidewalks or about scooters being left in inconvenient places in front of businesses. Several college campuses around the country have banned electric scooters because they frequently pose a danger to pedestrians and to the riders themselves.

During a city council discussion about the scooters this week, Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said, “I don’t want them on my sidewalks, and I don’t want them on my streets.” That is a reasonable demand, but one that will be nearly impossible to enforce. We would not want — and would not expect — police to spend much time on scooter enforcement while ensuring that riders remain in bike paths.

Safety is, indeed, one of the issues revolving around scooter programs. A study by the city of Austin, Texas, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found a relatively high rate of catastrophic injuries and emphasized the importance of e-scooter operators wearing protective helmets. Again, that will be difficult to enforce.

And, finally, another concern was raised by Vancouver City Councilor Bill Turlay, who said, “We have an aging population that I don’t know would do really all that well on these things.” It is a valid point, but not one that should influence the council’s eventual decision about whether to launch a scooter program. Residents who are not interested in borrowing a scooter still will have the same transportation options they have now; this would simply add one more alternative that appeals to a certain segment of the population.

Given the good and bad of scooter programs, Councilor Erik Paulsen raised the most pertinent issue: “In particular, (I’m) interested in the administration piece. I hear dollar signs. Scale matters in terms of those administrative costs, and we’re a modestly sized community.”

Determining the costs and the liability risks to the city likely will be the deciding factor in whether or not a scooter program is right for Vancouver. We wouldn’t want taxpayers to be taken for a ride in the endeavor.