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Are e-scooters crossing boundaries set by the city?

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The scooters were supposed to be geo-fenced to operate only within Chicago’s pilot zone

Alyssa Nassner

Chicago’s recently launched electric scooter pilot program has quickly made an impact, whether you like or dislike this new, startup-backup transit option. In just the first week alone, the 2,500 electric scooters and minibikes placed in a pilot zone on the northwest side of the city racked up 60,000 rides, suggesting the vision of a car-free alternative to getting around the city is gaining fans. It’s also subject to mounting complaints about blocked sidewalks and accidents.

But are these new micromobility options staying within the strict, geo-fence boundaries set up for the city’s four-month scooter trial? A recent tweet by 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly suggests in at least some cases, they’re not.

Reilly recently spotted an electric minibike operated by the startup Wheels on the corner of Clark and Hubbard, well outside the 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.

He apparently isn’t a fan of the technology, noting that he predicts a “November vote to ban this crap.”

Can these vehicles operate outside the pilot zone, and if so, how often are they invading street corners east of the Halsted dividing line? Vehicles in the pilot program are supposed to gradually slow down and stop when they approach the geo-fenced boundary, but anecdotal evidence suggests at least in some cases, they are either not stopping, or are manually moved and then restarted by riders on the other side of the boundary.

According to a spokesperson from the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), which is running the trial, the city is aware of issues with the pilot and already taking action:

”We are committed to providing a safe, equitable and sustainable mobility option for all residents of Chicago through the Electric Shared Scooter Pilot Program. All companies will be held accountable to carry out this program on our terms, which is why we have issued citations against Bird, Bolt, JUMP, and Sherpa for failing to meet our rebalancing requirements, with a potential fine up to $1,000. Any vendor that continues to fail to adhere to the pilot’s terms will be subject to permit suspension or revocation. We are continuing to monitor vendor’s adherence to all the pilot terms and will issue warnings and citations as appropriate.”

Curbed has also reached out to Wheels, the company involved in Alderman Reilly’s tweet, and will update the story when we hear back.

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.
BACP

Cities across the country and globe have been struggling to keep up with regulating this new transit option, as startups with venture capital funding continue to expand at a rapid clip. Scooter companies have asked for permission to deploy more vehicles, arguing that more scooters are needed to create the network effects and ease of access needed to prove this new technology can be a more sustainable transit option.

Recently, Nashville mayor David Briley ended his city’s pilot project after the city’s first scooter-related death, involving a 26-year-old rider who had more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system.