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Chicago’s scooter pilot program is ending soon, what’s next?

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Officials are evaluating the safety and impact

An illustration of an electric scooter. The scooter has two wheels and a handlebar. There is a pink background. Alyssa Nassar

In just a short time, Chicago’s scooter pilot program will wrap up its four-month-long experiment with 10 companies and 2,500 electric scooters. While the program hasn’t been without its issues (there’s been injuries and the city’s fined several companies for not following rules), plenty of residents support the method of transit.

On Tuesday, October 15, the scooter pilot program will come to an end, and the city has no plans to extend it at this point. Throughout the pilot, city officials and aldermen have been gathering feedback to determine whether scooters can have a place in Chicago. One of the top complaints was riders zooming down sidewalks. Some residents weren’t happy seeing scooters on The 606 (which isn’t allowed) and some riders using them recklessly against the flow of traffic.

A poll from Lime, one of the scooter vendors, found that 61 percent of the survey takers said they supported a dockless scooter program. That’s up 7 points from the company’s survey in March. Lime also found that 63 percent of African Americans and 74 percent of Latinos who took the survey were in favor of scooters.

The survey also asked respondents about congestion pricing and pollution, implying that scooters were a greener option. A little less than half of the survey takers were in favor of congestion pricing if other transit options were expanded. While alternative transportation that reduces car traffic is ideal, scooters are not as climate-friendly as some companies market themselves to be. A short scooter trip might be better than one in a car, but there’s still a lot of driving required to collect, charge, and redistribute them every day.

Chicago’s scooter pilot program was meant to test whether the transit option would help with “last mile” transportation. The pilot area was contained mainly to the West Side bordered by Irving Park Road; Halsted Street and the Chicago River; Pershing Road; and city limits. The area was selected in part because of the lack of Divvy stations and spaced out public transportation.

There’s no timeline on how long the city will take to evaluate the data from the pilot program and when a decision might come about a long-term scooter program. It will be important to consider what a citywide implementation might look like, how winter will affect the usage, and whether scooters will be permitted on the Lakefront Trail. There’s a lot to think about, but it’s clear the city acknowledges the popularity of scooters.

“With nearly 675,000 rides completed in three months, it is clear that there is demand for scooters in Chicago,” said Kevin O’Malley, CDOT Managing Deputy Commissioner in a statement. “Total ridership, however, is just one of the many factors we will be taking into account to evaluate the pilot, along with safety, the impact on residents, particularly individuals with disabilities, operator performance and the impact on our transportation network.”

If the city chooses to bring scooters into Chicago, it could make sense to partner with Lyft. The ride-hailing company already owns the city’s Divvy bikeshare through the parent company Motivate and is working on an $50 million expansion. Plus, it was the only company to not to receive a citation from the city.