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Chicago rolls out dockless electric scooter test program on the city’s West Side

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Officials will “assess the viability of this new mobility option”

Alyssa Nassner

As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel prepares to leave office in three weeks, a top priority identified by his Mobility Task Force is moving forward with the deployment of a fleet dockless electric scooters on the city’s West Side. The test program will allow officials to evaluate the technology as a new way to cut down on automobile traffic and better connect residents to existing transit options.

“The City is committed to improving transportation access, reducing single-occupancy vehicle use, and providing first- and last-mile solutions to support public transit,” said Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) in a statement. “This program is designed to test how scooters as a mobility option can support these goals.”

While the four-month pilot program won’t begin until June 15, CDOT and the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) are currently accepting applications from vendors. Capped between 2,500 and 3,500 units, the scooters will be evenly split among selected participants.

It’s too early to say which companies will apply, but major players such as Lime, Bird, Uber, and Lyft are likely to answer the call. Lime was the first company to demonstrate a handful of e-scooters in Chicago last summer.

Chicagoans, however, shouldn’t expect to see scooters downtown or along the lakefront trail—at least not anytime soon. The pilot is confined to the city’s West Side in an area bordered by Halsted Street and the Chicago River on the east, Irving Park Road to the north, Chicago city limits and Harlem Avenue to the west, and the Chicago River to the south.

Image courtesy of City of Chicago BACP

Unlike some other U.S. cities where dockless scooters overran streets and sidewalks seemingly overnight with zero rules or regulations to govern their use, Chicago laid out specific guidelines for companies to follow.

For starters, scooters will be limited to 15 miles per hour and can only operate on streets (not sidewalks) between the hours of 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. To cut down on potential clutter, the scooters must be parked in the same manner as bicycles: upright and away from street corners, bus stops, and buildings and leaving a minimum of six feet of sidewalk clearance.

Companies must retrieve improperly parked scooters within a two-hour window as well as collect all of their scooters every evening. The operators are also required to provide the city with continuous real-time data for officials to evaluate.

In March, Emanuel’s Transportation and Mobility Task Force identified a dockless electric scooter test program as a 2019 goal. Other recommendations by the group include increasing the gas tax to fund transit improvements, creating a uniform city data-sharing network, and launching new studies to determine the impact of autonomous vehicles.

“Chicago needs more and better alternatives to driving, and electric scooters can be part of a growing list of more efficient transportation options,” said Ron Burke, executive director of Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance, in a recent statement. “More Chicagoans riding scooters can help us win street space back from cars carrying one or two people, and get more people walking, biking, and riding public transit.”

California-based Lime became the first company to demo dockless electric scooters in Chicago last summer.
Photo courtesy of Lime