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Bike share firm demonstrating electric scooters at festivals, hopes for city OK

Dockless electric scooter outside on the sidewalk
Lime electric scooters use the same pavement bicyclists use. They reach a top speed of 20 mph, but are usually set to top out around 15 mph. Workers collect the scooters, charge them overnight, and distribute them around the city each morning. | Rahul Parikh/Sun-Times

The undeniable “Wheeee!” factor of taking off on an electric scooter can easily be tempered by a “Where-are-the-brakes-on-this-thing-again?” factor.

But after a few minutes, it’s not hard to get the hang of.

Hoping to familiarize Chicagoans with the merriment and utility electric scooters offer, the California-based Lime, which already has a bike-share program in part of the city, showcased 40 e-scooters at the Sheffield Music Festival and Garden Walk over the weekend.

Video by: Rahul Parikh

Lime plans to trot out its scooters for the next five weekends at festivals around the city — though company representatives couldn’t say which festivals because they’re still hammering out the details.

The demonstrations are meant to build hype in an effort to eventually gain approval from the city to launch a dockless e-scooter sharing pilot program.

It works like this: log into a smartphone app to unlock the Lime e-scooter for a cost of $1. Each minute in use will cost 15 cents. Upon reaching your destination, park the scooter on a sidewalk near a curb and use the app to end the ride, which automatically locks the scooter’s wheels.

They’re meant to travel the same pavement bicyclists use. They reach a top speed of 20 mph, but are usually set to top out around 15 mph. Workers collect the scooters, charge them overnight, and distribute them around the city each morning.

Users unlock and lock the Lime electric scooters using a smartphone app. | Rahul Parikh/Sun-Times
Users unlock and lock the Lime electric scooters using a smartphone app. | Rahul Parikh/Sun-Times

Lime’s ultimate goal is to gain approval to deposit e-scooters throughout the city.

But the Chicago Department of Transportation, which would need to sign off on the effort, has yet to seriously consider the matter.

“Last we heard from them they’re not wanting to work on it right now,” said Gabriel Scheer, Lime’s director of strategic development.

CDOT officials are in the midst of evaluating a dockless bike sharing program on the South Side that is separate from the city’s well established Divvy program. Lime is also in the bike business and is participating in that pilot.

“(CDOT officials) say the bike pilot side of things is something that they’re already focused on and they’re not ready to work on e-scooters yet,” Scheer said.

One hurdle e-scooters might have to overcome is the fact that their business model depends on users being responsible for parking them on sidewalks along the curb in a manner that doesn’t clutter up the public way.

The same please-park-in-a-responsible-manner model was being used by two companies — one being Lime — that are participating in the South Side bike sharing pilot.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg tried out the new Lime Bike on 103rd street in May. | Eliza Davidson/Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg tried out the new Lime Bike on 103rd street in May. | Eliza Davidson/Sun-Times

The city wouldn’t let the two companies put more than 50 of their bikes into circulation. Other companies offering “lock-to” technology — meaning the bikes must be locked to fixed objects, like street signs and bike racks — were allowed to put hundreds of bikes into circulation.

That limitation caused a Chinese company, Ofo, to exit the program, But Scheer said Lime is going to carry on and try to change the minds of CDOT officials when it comes to bikes being left freestanding on sidewalks between rides.

The question is, will CDOT adopt a similarly weary stance when it comes to e-scooters that will not be tethered to anything?

A CDOT spokesman wasn’t available to chat about the issue this week.

“We’re hoping that “lock-to” isn’t part of the equation for e-scooters in Chicago,” Scheer said.

Lime, which operates in nearly 70 U.S. cities where it operates, was formed in January 2017 and has collected $467 million in several rounds of financing — with the latest large investment coming from Uber.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel hasn’t ridden one of Lime’s e-scooters, Scheer said.

Marnie Pilgrim, who is part of Lime’s Chicago operations, demonstrates one of the firm’s electric scooters on Sunday. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times
Marnie Pilgrim, who is part of Lime’s Chicago operations, demonstrates one of the firm’s electric scooters on Sunday. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times
Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times