Who rides the Orange bikes - Locals vs Tourists?

We know from survey summaries that questions were asked of biketown user respondents whether they were ‘Portlanders’ or some other category, presumably something akin to tourists. Mysteriously though no one seems inclined or able to divulge what the ratio of local to non-local users is.
I find this suspicious. But either way I’d like to know what the ratio is. Can anyone help?

Thanks very much.

I’m not sure they know.

My history with BikeTown: I signed up for what I think of as a booster account in the first year, a full year membership to help give them a solid base. The membership put me in the “Subscriber” category. I never got comfortable with the bikes because they fit short riders badly, and hardly rode them. After the first year, I regressed to “casual,” and have ridden the bikes a couple of times - once to a big protest downtown, once to a meeting in Old Town and the return trip to my office. I only did that because on my previous trip to a several hour meeting at the same office, my beater mountain bike was stripped while locked to a staple rack.

The app gives some hints. For the last year (4/1/19 - 3/31/20), there were 110,939 Subscriber and 195,167 Casual trips. When I look at the information they have on me, I see my email and cell phone number, but no address. At some point they had a credit card to charge. No visitor is going to subscribe, so we know Portland subscribers took more than a third of those trips. The city may know more than they show, but I doubt they can answer that question with solid facts.

If you read this News Release: BIKETOWN 2016 Report: Survey shows BIKETOWN supports local business, tourism and reduces car trips | News | The City of Portland, Oregon the words ‘Portlander’ and ‘tourist’ are all over the place. No one interpreting survey results is going to use those terms if the survey didn’t ask respondents to choose those answers.

‘Local’ vs ‘out-of-town’ are another pair of descriptors used in that piece.

Surveys only tell you who answers surveys. This particular survey reports that 26 percent of Portlanders used it instead of driving a car and 64 percent said they are cycling more. I’ve ridden across the service area virtually every day for the entire time BIKETown has been in existence, and this is totally out of whack with what I consistently see.

BikeTown doesn’t know where people live, so they won’t know who are tourists. But the question is why is it important if a user is a tourist or not?

BikeTown only operates close to the core which is where the most tourists are. During warm months, it’s pretty obvious that it’s used both by tourists and locals for recreational rides with some short hop convenience mixed in when the weather is good. As you get further away from the center and the weather gets worse, the number of tourists in the ratio (and the total number of riders) drops dramatically.

I’d love to use the service myself, but I’ve had no use for the $40 credit I have for the simple reason that I’m hardly ever in a situation where a trip begins and ends in the service area, even if almost every trip passes through it.

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Thanks for those thoughtful observations,
You asked “ But the question is why is it important if a user is a tourist or not?”

Well, the writers of the survey linked above thought it was important to know, and to report usage behaviors separately. For me, I am interested in this because as a public investment, a utility, a piece of transportation infrastructure I want to understand the extent to which it serves those who live here (and conceivably could use it to ‘take care of business’ vs those who are visiting, and whose ‘business’ is as I see it very different, more likely to be discretionary, something our city leaders like to encourage presumably due to the spending those tourists might engage in while here, etc., but in which I personally have no interest, and don’t feel we should encourage or spend money on.

Anecdotally, I can tell you use patterns vary throughout the network. For those who live in the center who don’t have far to go, it can be a handy way to go short distances because they don’t have to worry about bike storage/maintenance/theft.

Use is heaviest around the waterfront and appears to be predominantly recreational, though people do use them to get to nearby destinations. As you go further away from the waterfront and start dealing with features like hills, more traffic, and less infrastructure the recreational aspect drops, and the use becomes more utilitarian – though it also becomes very light. Things like automatically signing up PSU students for the service noticeably affects use.

The tourists come whether or not there are bikes, so I’m not sure why encouraging them to ride the bikes would not be a good thing as some of the needs would inevitably be met by vehicular services like Uber instead. Also this type of use increases demand/support for bike infrastructure – I doubt it would have ever occurred to anyone that Better Naito had to exist if it weren’t for tourists.

While bikeshare sounds like a great idea, the question is whether it really works in practice. The average mileage per bike is tiny – much less than one would expect for a privately owned bike and it takes a lot of labor (and fuel) to rebalance them – i.e. a van has to drive around so a few people can ride a bit over a mile. There are mechanical challenges as well.

Scooters had noticeably more traction, and I saw people taking them a lot more places where people didn’t want to ride the bikes. Having said that, the actual mileage put on them is also very light.

Typical trips with scooters and bikes are just a mile and change which makes sense when you think of the size of the service area. I personally can’t take either seriously since you can’t rely on them or take them for more than short distances (i.e. they’re really a substitute for walking), but I still feel like they have some role to play.

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On the rebalancing and related costs of the system I agree and find it troubling that in the paeans to this service by its boosters we hear so little about those costs. The well done meta study of e-scooters found that it really didn’t pencil out environmentally given those surprisingly high costs that of course are mostly invisible to those of us who are not juicers or employees of the companies.

As for “The tourists come whether or not there are bikes, so I’m not sure why encouraging them to ride the bikes would not be a good thing.” I don’t agree. Though a familiar argument (about free parking, airplanes flying anyway, etc), it really isn’t like that at all. Many people are keenly attuned to what others think, and arrange their patterns accordingly. If being a tourist is given an eco-gloss via some twenty-first-century, smart-phone-enabled shiny object class, you will have a hard time convincing me that this doesn’t have some small but measurable effect on peoples’ inclination to visit, to move about while here, etc.
We should—especially in times like the one we are currently experiencing—when lots that wasn’t up for grabs, open to new interpretation only recently suddenly is, ask ourselves some of these questions, demand the bar be set higher, that our ideals could be within reach if we dared…

It does have an effect on their inclination to visit, and the survey reflected this – though I suspect it exaggerated the effect.

The entire idea of someone driving or even flying a long distance so they can ride a bike for a couple miles is absurd, though I don’t doubt that it happens nor that Portland’s manufactured image plays a role in this.

But part of Portland is the obsession with image and connecting it with identity – much more so than any other place I’ve lived. This is unfortunate on many levels and ultimately does enormous damage to the possibility of far more people even accepting (let alone embracing) cycling.

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I am 5 feet tall and all the rental/shared bikes in the world are too big for me. Their one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t fit all. Also, in the time of Covid and cities turning into unhygienic campgrounds, there’s a yucky “is-there-poop-on-this-bike?” factor. If I could fit on these bikes, I would use them (as a downtown -near-PSU resident) instead of my own bike so my bike isn’t stripped/stolen while I’m buying a vegan donut.

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The service area issue is why I haven’t used them at all up until now. We live in North Tabor, just east of the boundary. I have been looking forward to the expansion of the service area, as taking a bikeshare bike downtown to catch my bus would eliminate the issues (bike rack space, theft) of taking my personal bike.

I was glad to see that the scooter pilot program required their placement in the east side of town, and regardless of how one may feel about them, I saw them getting frequent use east of 82nd/205.

It seems to me that bikeshare would be useful as a connection to transit (especially MAX) for locals, and that use would be self-rebalancing to an extent.

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I suspect the designers of the program instituted an age requirement in lieu of a height requirement. Some of us will never grow into them, and as I get older, I’m likely to get even shorter. Designed for one standard deviation from the mean of men, not women.


You’re right! How do you interpret on whom that size threshold is set? Is it North American, or worldwide statistics? Is including sexual dimorphism (it should, but I doubt it does)? Having hung out with industrial and vehicle design students in design school, I saw how crazy difficult trying to design for one size fits all is (heck, I have a big melon and every hat that makes that claim lies). I.D.s don’t even try to get absolutely everyone (it’s impossible because of the diminishing returns of the long tails on either side of the bell curve). “Good-enough” design goes for the 80/20 threshold, better design goes for 90/10 or 95/5. I seem to recall that there’s an actual regulatory standard threshold on this that must be met for passenger vehicle design, but I am not sure or what it would be.

There are so many things like that. Average body temperature has not been 98.6 for a very long time, but it was when originally studied in the 19th century, and we’ve held that as the standard ever since. I feel feverish if my temperature is that high.

I am local. I live outside the service area, but work(ed) downtown pre pandemic. My pre pandemic stats are 1492 trips for 1875 miles. I miss BikeTown dearly and can’t say enough good things about it.


Yeah, it seems absurd to me that PBOT applied that standard to the scooter vendors, while their own Biketown program never served the outer east side. All the arguments about “last mile solutions” apply to scooters, but not bikes?

But of course we need to remember that Biketown was initially built around a dock system (ending a ride in a place other than a dock slapped a fee-- $2?-- on your ride). I’d guess that the prospect of building docks (and balancing bikes via van) all the way out to Gresham was too big of a challenge.

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They did add some “super dock” regions later on. That is, for high-density, motor-vehicle parking problem areas—where PBOT wanted to specifically discourage driving to—they made it such that as long as you locked to a city-installed blue staple anywhere in the area, the no-dock fee was waived. That worked out convenient for me since there was a blue staple right in from of my employer’s door in the CEID.