A Lime scooter on the streets of Portland, Oregon in May 2019.
Photo: Gillian Flaccus (AP)

A county sheriff’s dive team recovered 11 e-scooters from downtown Portland’s Willamette River near the Hawthorne Bridge on Tuesday after they were discovered by police divers, the Oregonian reported.

The scooters in question belonged to several brands from the city’s year-long pilot program for dockless e-scooter rentals, including from the startups Lime, Bird, and Razor. Sergeant Brandon White of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office told the Oregonian that police had no clue why people had thrown them in the river or who the culprits were, but “We advise those people not to park scooters in the river.”

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The Oregonian noted that some of the devices had been in the water long enough to rust, but that one of the Lime scooters still had functioning lights. The divers were concerned that chemicals in the units’ batteries could leech into the water.

This is not all that surprising, given that distributing dockless scooters across a city more or less invites some degree of theft and vandalism by default. Moreover, e-scooter rental startups have attracted somewhat of a mixed reputation (to put it lightly) due to issues ranging from careless riders leaving them strewn about city streets to widespread reports of injuries resulting from accidents or malfunctioning units, as well as a number of scooter rental-related deaths. One critic also set up an Instagram account to document “evidence of scooter chaos” in Portland, taking note to mention that “We do not condone or encourage damage to scooters!”

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An affiliated website, http://scootersintheriverpdx.com/, had been tracking reports of scooters thrown in the river, including purported screenshots of apps showing the GPS coordinates of ones abandoned to a watery grave. Its tally stood at 17, though that number was partially based on anecdotes and hasn’t been updated since last year.

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Regardless, according to the New York Times, Portland city officials put a heavy emphasis on regulatory oversight when implementing the programs, and the companies seemed to have taken a more cautious approach during their expansion there following crackdowns in San Francisco and other cities. Again, there’s no evidence that the apparent river dumpings were motivated by animus towards the scooters as opposed to, say, garden-variety knucklehead behavior.

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Police divers expect to find at least 20 of the units “by the end of the cleaning project,” according to local station KATU.

The Oregonian wrote that all three aforementioned companies, obviously, discourage vandalizing their hardware:

Spokespersons from Bird and Lime responded in emails saying vandalizing the scooters is wrong and shouldn’t be accepted. Both said if people see a scooter being vandalized, they should report it.

... The Chief Operating Officer of Razor, Danny Simons, said in an email Razor does its best to track their scooters. He said the company is continuously working to minimize missing, stolen or vandalized scooters.

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While the companies involved have been “tight-lipped about whether vandalism has become an issue in portland, according to KOIN 6 News, an email from a Lime representative to local transit officials advised using grappling hooks to recover units found in bodies of water.

The five companies involved in Portland’s trial program have some 1,975 scooters on the streets, according to KATU. So if the police do find 20 in total, that’d be about one percent.

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[Oregonian]