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Dockless electric scooters operators set sights on Chicago

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The “micromobility” revolution is coming to town

Lime

This past weekend, California-based Lime became the first company to demo dockless electric scooters in Chicago. Although it brought just 40 examples of its GPS-enabled powered scooters to Lincoln Park’s Sheffield Music and Garden Walk Festival, Lime’s public demonstration represents Chicago’s first official foray into the fast-growing “micromobility” movement.

As with Lime’s dockless bicycle program currently testing on Chicago’s Far South Side, users can find, unlock, and pick up nearby vehicles using a dedicated smartphone app. The scooters will cost $1 to unlock and 15 cents per each minute used. When finished, users park their scooters by the street curb or at a bike rack. Rides will also be accessible via the Uber app, thanks to the ride-hailing giant’s investment in Lime.

The unprecedented growth of scooter operators comes with the same concerns facing dockless bikes: how to safely share city streets and avoid sidewalk clutter. It’s still unclear if Chicago officials will compel scooter operators like Lime to equip the same kind of “lock-to” mechanism mandated for its dockless bikes. Chicago’s locking requirement has already prompted Chinese company Ofo to prematurely pull its bikes from the city’s South Side pilot program.

Some Chicago lawmakers are looking for other ways to regulate the expected influx of e-scooters before they arrive. First Ward Alderman Proco Joe Moreno has even introduced an ordinance to cap vehicle speeds at 20 mph and require companies to obtain electric scooter share licenses. Under the plan, operators would pay the city an “infrastructure, public property repair and maintenance” fee of $1 per scooter, per day.

Young women ride shared electric scooters in Santa Monica, California, on July 13, 2018.
AFP/Getty Images

Lime competitor Bird—whose e-scooters were spotted testing in Wicker Park this month—appears to be on board with Chicago’s proactive solution to put sensible regulations in place before the company’s anticipated large-scale deployment.

“When we launch, we comply with the laws on the books,” Bird spokesman Kenneth Baer told the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this summer. “In a good number of cities, the law is silent or not clear on how to treat this new technology. So that causes some of the turbulence. Chicago is being forward-thinking here.”

Bird’s enthusiasm for a well-defined set of rules comes after difficult roll-outs in several cities across the country. Bird’s scooters, along with those of competitors like Lime, have faced everything from lawsuits to flat-out bans in places such as Milwaukee, Nashville, and Miami.

If Chicago gets it right, e-scooters could be here to stay. The service would provide another tool to help residents ditch cars and better access transit—a preference recently supported by new data from Lime and Uber.