Nike-sponsored Biketown is Portland’s premier bike-share program. A thousand bright red-orange bikes eagerly await commuters at one hundred stations across downtown and local neighborhoods. At $2.50/ hour or $12 for a full day, these bikes are attractive and convenient options for city transportation. The program launched in July 2016 with extremely promising results. A total of 136,000 miles were traveled over 59,000 trips in its very first month. Biketown allows locals and tourists alike to traverse our bike-friendly city easily and relatively cheaply; yet what consumers may not know is that with each Biketown agreement they sign, they waive their constitutional right to a civil jury trial in court if something goes awry.
How Forced Arbitration Impacts Consumers
Arbitration clauses were developed as an informal, expedited method of resolving common disputes among businesses. The model does not work well when a consumer is pitted against a corporation, for these two entities are not equal.
Companies that include forced arbitration clauses in their user agreements try to paint them as user-friendly alternatives to complicated and unpleasant court proceedings. Little do most people know that arbitration is heavily biased toward the corporation. It is also generally not a more cost-effective approach to dispute resolution than taking someone to court.
Portland’s Biketown yet Another Peddler of Forced Arbitration
The program boasts it is the perfect solution for one-way trips around town. Its own website states it is “fun, affordable, and convenient;” yet, in the depths of the Biketown User Agreement there is a forced arbitration clause buried in the section titled “Binding Arbitration; Class Action Waiver” that prevents users of the popular bike-share program from pursuing their claims in court or as part of a class action settlement. The only solution the contract provides is to pursue mandatory arbitration to resolve disputes.
A portion of the clause reads:
“You agree that any dispute or Claim relating in any way to Your use of the Services will be resolved by binding arbitration, rather than in court.”
Forced arbitration clauses have long stripped away the rights of consumers to stand up to corporations for wrongdoing. Over the past 30-odd years, companies have used these clauses as shields against taking responsibility for violating a myriad of consumer protections. These clauses are everywhere — whether you are signing up for cable TV, a new credit card, or even taking one of the city’s inviting bicycles for a spin. They are usually buried in the pages and pages of Terms and Conditions or Agreements contracts that pop up before you are permitted to continue paying a bill or completing a purchase online.
The way it works is this: Portland’s Biketown hires a “neutral” third party as a mediator. This company has likely mediated dozens of disputes for Biketown in the past, and has an interest in siding with Portland Biketown in the future. There are no judges or juries outside of this company to level the playing field. Once a decision has been reached, the consumer likely walks away with little of what he or she would usually receive had the claim gone to court. In addition, consumers are sworn to secrecy about revealing the outcome of the mediation, and cannot appeal decisions.
Are there other options?
Not every company provides a work-around to their arbitration clauses, but Biketown does allow users to opt-out of their agreement within the first 30 days of riding. This is also hidden deep in the agreement, in the very same section titled “Binding Arbitration; Class Action Waiver” under the general heading “Miscellaneous.” But let’s face it, 99% of users sign these agreements without reading a word of the contract. Most consumers would not realize this option is available to them as they are unwilling to trudge through pages of dense legalese.
What can I do if I Become Injured?
Forced arbitration clauses seek first and foremost to protect the company. If you have been injured in a Portland BikeShare accident, seek legal recourse at RizkLaw. Call (503) 245-5677 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation.