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Scooter pilot is coming to an end, but some Chicagoans want them to stay

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There’s no timeline for a decision from officials

Two scooters parked on a sidewalk next to a brick building and two parked cars.
Scooters in Chicago.

At 10 p.m. Tuesday Chicago’s four-month scooter program officially ends and 10 companies will collect a total of 2,500 scooters from the West Side pilot area.

City officials will now decide whether to make them a permanent transportation option, or consider extending the pilot. There’s no timeline or deadline for the city to make an announcement either way and plenty of data to review. The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) has asked residents to weigh in with their feedback and it will also evaluate each company’s rebalancing efforts, compliance, and service. Plus, an online survey from the city.

A total of 772,450 scooter rides were taken as of October 6, according to the Chicago Sun-Times and in the pilot’s first week more than 60,000 rides were taken. The e-scooters are popular and some riders complained that there just weren’t enough (remember though, each of the 10 companies was only allowed to distribute 250 scooters). Criticisms of the program include complaints that it was rolled out too quickly without enough instruction on safety and that scooter riders were zipping down prohibited areas like The 606 and sidewalks.

A national report found that micromobility transit options, like scooters, were ideal, especially for Chicago. Some transit advocacy groups agree and are pushing the Lightfoot administration to implement an extension of the pilot to November and a permanent, citywide e-scooter program by March 2020.

Olatunji Oboi Reed, president and CEO of Equiticity, and L. Anton Seals Jr., lead steward of Grow Greater Englewood, released a joint statement advocating for e-scooters and a wider network of Divvy bikes saying it will improve the lives of black and brown people in neighborhoods with less reliable or accessible public transportation.

There exist extensive, academic research which shows that Black and Brown people receive fewer benefits and experience a greater proportion of harms from transportation than other groups. In Chicago and nationally, Black and Brown people are more likely to be victims of traffic violence. We experience longer commute times, relative to white people. Our children experience higher incidences of asthma when living within 250 feet of highways, which are disproportionately located in neighborhoods with significant concentrations of poverty and Black and Brown people. Cyclists in Chicago’s majority Black neighborhoods still receive higher rates of bicycle citations, relative to majority white neighborhoods.

Reed and Seals also made several other recommendations to the city not only about the scooters program but pedestrians, bicyclists, infrastructure, safety, and housing which would be affected by the new transportation option.

They asked the Lightfoot administration to remove police enforcement as a strategy in the Vision Zero street safety plan, saying that “increased police traffic stops in our neighborhoods further [criminalize] our communities.”

The statement also says better transportation has the potential to accelerate gentrification and that “aggressive, comprehensive policies” should be established now to increase affordable housing.

The statement advocates for an extensive network of barrier-protected bike and scooter lanes throughout all neighborhoods, investment in micromobility companies that are committed to developing safe streets, and support of community-based education and safety events.

In Chicago, scooters have faced their fair share of criticism but seem to have garnered a lot of support. It’s possible that the limited number of scooters, the small pilot area away from downtown, and some decent biking infrastructure already in place contributed to this.

If city officials decide scooters are here to stay, and the program expands citywide, it will be important to educate residents about how to properly ride them as many serious injuries involved first-time riders. Transportation officials will have to determine of scooters will be permitted in the car-centric, congested downtown or on the busy Lakefront Trail.

Other cities such as Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles have all questioned whether it’s safe to put scooters on the streets.