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Everything you need to know about electric scooters in Chicago

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A pilot program brings thousands of scooters to Chicago

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

Dockless, electric scooters were unleashed in June and the rapidly popular transportation option will be tested as part of a pilot program until October. Right now, the riding area is confined to the city’s West Side and when the testing period is up, the city officials will make a decision on whether to offer the e-scooters long term.

Here’s everything you need to know about the scooters, and the 10 companies vying for a contract. Get rolling!

Where can I ride an electric scooter?

The pilot program is in a 50-square-mile zone bounded by the Halsted Street and Irving Park Road to the north, Chicago River to the south, city limits and Harlem Avenue to the west, and the Stevenson Expressway to the south.

A grey map of the pilot area with blue dots to illustrate Divvy stations and a purple and yellow line to designate the West Side pilot area.
Scooters can operate with the purple boundaries. The city also identified two priority zones (green and yellow) where companies must place at least 25 percent of their scooters each morning.

Will scooters be allowed on the Lakefront Trail?

The pilot area doesn’t include this part of the city, and geo-fencing technology aims to prevent anyone from using them there during the pilot period. However, there have been lone scooters sighted outside the pilot area. If shared electric scooters are approved for the city as a whole, there isn’t any current regulation to prevent lakefront trail riding.

What about the 606 Trail?

The Park District doesn’t allow scooters on the 606 Trail which runs east-west through Bucktown and Logan Square in the pilot area. Some company’s scooters will recognize the trail and slow down significantly or alert the rider they are in a no ride zone.

The scooters will be allowed on other park trails in the area like in Humboldt Park and Garfield Park.

How does it work?

Anyone with a license can ride an electric scooter between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. on streets (no sidewalks!). Scooters can be unlocked with a mobile phone through the company’s app and, unlike Divvy bikes, don’t have to be parked at a docking station.

What companies are bringing scooters to Chicago?

No less than ten companies are participating in the pilot program: Bird, Lime, Lyft, Bolt, Grüv, Jump, Sherpa, Spin, VeoRide, and Wheels. And yes, you’ll need to download different apps for each one.

How much does it cost?

Each operator can set its own price during the pilot program. In other large cities, companies typically charge $1 to rent a scooter and 15 cents per minute.

Is there an age limit?

Riders must be at least 18 year old or 16 and older with a guardian’s consent.

How fast do the scooters go?

They are limited to 15 mph.

How many scooters are there?

Each company will be allowed to bring 250 scooters for a total of 2,500 during the pilot. Both Bird and Lime claim that riders say there aren’t enough scooters.

How long is the pilot program?

The program will run from June 15 to October 15 and afterwards, the city will determine whether scooters can work here. The pilot program will give officials more information about any safety issues, the effect on transit, and potential problems with sidewalk clutter.

How will the city evaluate each company?

Companies will be judged on their rebalancing efforts, compliance with parking and educational requirements, and accessibility plans for individuals with disabilities, said Isaac Reichman, a spokesman for the city’s department of business affairs and consumer protection.

“We believe that Chicago has benefitted from waiting to roll out this program,” added Reichman. “As the technology has improved, we have had the opportunity to see what does and doesn’t work in other cities.”

In Chicago, some scooters will have seats to accommodate riders with disabilities. There is also the option to unlock some scooters via text rather than smart phone or pay in cash for those without a debit or credit card.

Only three of the ten participating vendors have avoided running afoul of the rules.

Will the sidewalks be littered with scooters?

This issue has surfaced in other cities that have permitted scooters, and Chicago has strict requirements for participating vendors. Electric scooters will follow similar rules to bikes when it comes to parking. No blocking sidewalks or leaning against a building.

Riders will have to send a photo of a properly parked scooter at the end of their trip and companies are required to move any scooter that’s in the way within two hours. At the end of every day, scooters will be collected and redistributed in the morning.

Is it safe?

Unlike other cities, there is no helmet requirement to ride a scooter. There is some safety concern for the new transit option—a recent safety study found that serious, scooter-related injuries could be prevented by wearing a helmet. The city plans to engage the local business community to come up with options for providing free helmets to users.

Lime and Bird require riders to watch a safety video in the app that explains riding etiquette, safety tips, and how to park. Lime will also host first-ride education events in every ward to help people get more familiar with scooters. Plus, they’ll be distributing free helmets.

Jay Koziarz contributed to this story.