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Electric scooter company pushing for May launch, despite City Hall stall

Imani Williams, a recent graduate of Columbia College, took Lime's new scooter model for a test ride on the riverfront Saturday. Lime is hoping to have scooters on Chicago's streets by May, but the city hasn't moved forward with an ordinance. | Savannah Eadens/Sun-Times

With speeds topping out at 15 mph, electric scooters offer an exciting way to get from point A to point B.

But efforts to bring the zippy mode of transport to Chicago have stalled out — at least for now.

Not that that has slowed the efforts of Lime, the billion-dollar company that has brought the dockless scooters to dozens of cities around the world, and that has already brought dockless bicycle rentals to the South Side. Now they say their goal is to have e-scooters on the streets by May.

As city officials continue mulling a citywide scooter set-up, Lime reps took their pitch to Chicagoans Saturday afternoon by offering free test rides on the Riverwalk.

“I want this in the city right now,” downtown resident Archit Joshipura said as he stepped off one of Lime’s newer models, specially designed for “rugged” conditions, like those on Chicago’s pothole-cratered streets.

Kush Patel (left) and Archit Joshipura (right) called electric scooters a ‘game changer’ after testing them out at Lime’s downtown event Saturday. | Savannah Eadens/Sun-Times
Kush Patel (left) and Archit Joshipura (right) called electric scooters a ‘game changer’ after testing them out at Lime’s downtown event Saturday. | Savannah Eadens/Sun-Times

City transportation officials, however, haven’t been on board with Joshipura’s desired timetable.

Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st) introduced an ordinance to the City Council last May seeking to establish rules of the road for electric scooters, but that legislation hasn’t moved out of committee — and with Moreno being voted out of office last week, its fate seems hazier than ever.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) called the popular scooters “the future of urban transit,” but echoed the concerns of other aldermen worried about the dockless vessels being left haphazardly on city sidewalks and in crowded pedestrian spaces — not to mention rental security in the wake of a spate of Divvy bike thefts last summer.

Additionally, Lime reportedly was forced to recall some 2,000 scooters in California last fall due to fire-prone batteries.

Hopkins said the city is taking its time for good reason, calling the company’s targeted May launch an “ambitious goal” with a new mayor taking office.

“We have done a pretty good job with the buildout of bike systems. The challenge is on city transportation planners to accommodate the increased variety of mobility devices [which] are getting smaller, lighter and cheaper to buy.

“Our mistake would be on getting behind on the regulatory calendar,” Hopkins said. “With Uber and Lyft, we didn’t act as a government until it was too late. We can’t do that.”

Lime officials have said the Chicago Department of Transportation — which would have to sign off on the effort — hasn’t seriously considered the matter, instead focusing on the city’s bike program. CDOT officials didn’t immediately return requests for comment on Saturday.

The company started offering public test rides at several festivals last summer. During their Riverwalk demo, Lime workers provided participants with letters urging the mayor and City Council to address their support for the electric scooters.

Lime executive Nico Probst says a scooter rollout would improve sustainability in Chicago.

“We’re trying to press upon getting people out of cars and into something else. We’ve found that in other cities, about 30 percent of our scooter trips are replacing car rides or Uber/Lyft trips.”