Attorney: Biketown user agreement waives your constitutional right to jury trial

(KATU Photo)

Portland's new bike-sharing program, Biketown, may have more history to it than you think.

The program officially started this week, with thousands of riders trying it out, but very few, at least by our short sampling, read the fine print of the user agreement that comes along with signing up.

"Read everything you sign, always," says attorney and champion cyclist Mark Ginsberg.

Deep inside the agreement is a clause that waives a rider's right to a civil jury trial if there's an accident or some other mishap.

The issue won't go to court, but to binding arbitration.

"The private forced arbitration is very biased in favor of the corporation. It’s not a fair fight. It's a slanted battlefield from day one. Most people don’t understand that because arbitration as a concept is good," Ginsberg told KATU.

On Friday, a couple visiting from San Francisco hopped on the bikes, one of them admitting he read some of the agreement.

"I saw something about a fee of 15-hundred dollars for a lost or stolen bike, so I wanted to know more. That's what got my attention," said Devon Smothers.

And that's the kind of thing that could go to court if the rider "opts out" of the agreement after signing up, which can be done by responding to an email address on the agreement.

That too is something Mark Ginsberg recommends, because he says the Seventh Amendment and 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, if you didn't sign your rights away with another contract, give you the right to go to court.

"And those are fair fights. Those are safeguarded constitutionally. They’re appealable to a judge and a jury, if either side doesn’t like the result. Here, the forced arbitration is not appealable.

One thing Ginsberg doesn't understand is why the city let the Biketown vendor, a company called Motivate, set up the system with such a user agreement.

"Orlando uses it, Seattle uses it, but New York and Los Angeles don't, so you don't have to have an agreement like this to make the program work. They’re the ones who are bringing us this program, and they have an opportunity to say to all of us that the city recognizes our constitutional rights are important, but they have chosen to bury in paragraph fifteen, a waiver of one of our constitutional rights."

In a company statement Motivate relates, "We believe arbitration is the most efficient and expedient process for resolving disputes."

A Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesman said the city was not involved in crafting the user agreement.

It doesn't matter much to Biketown rider Amelia Pfotenhauer, but something else does.

"We weren’t planning on using it all day, maybe we would look more into it if we were going to use it long-term, but for an hour, it seemed pretty simple. But the helmet thing was an issue. We saw everyone with helmets and we were worried we were going to get stopped by a cop or something asking where our helmets were."

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