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Over a half-million trips taken on e-scooters in 2020, city survey shows

The Chicago Department of Transportation also reported 171 probably emergency room visits because of e-scooter accidents during the 2020 pilot — down from 2019’s 192 accidents.

Lime electric scooters
Getting an e-scooter sharing program into Chicago permanently would help the city fulfill its goal of encouraging greener forms of transportation.
Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

The city says a trial run of e-scooters in 2020 was a success, even though riders took roughly 125,000 fewer trips than the year before.

That drop in trips occurred even though the 2020 pilot program was greatly expanded compared to 2019.

Riders combined for 540,000 trips in 2020, compared to 665,000 trips taken in 2019.

But city officials cautioned 2019 figures shouldn’t be compared to 2020, since it is “difficult to understand the full nature and extent of impacts the COVID-19 pandemic” had on ridership.

The figures come from a Chicago Department of Transportation survey released Friday that evaluated the city’s 2020 e-scooter pilot program. CDOT said it will meet with aldermen to discuss the findings and work to bring e-scooters back.

“The City is committed to providing equitable, accessible, affordable and sustainable transportation options for all of our residents and visitors,” said Gia Biagi, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“CDOT looks forward to working with City Council to craft programs that can provide mobility benefits throughout the city in a responsible and manageable way.”

Getting e-scooters in Chicago permanently is a step toward the overall goal of encouraging greener forms of transportation.

In 2019, The Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and CDOT launched a four-month e-scooter pilot with 10 vendors. About 2,500 scooters were placed on the West, Southwest and near Northwest Sides.

The 2020 pilot was expanded to nearly all of Chicago, the exceptions being the lakefront, downtown and O’Hare International Airport. It also reduced the number of vendors to three — Bird, Lime and Spin — but increased the number of scooters each company could deploy. Combined, 10,0000 devices were available citywide.

“We have learned from the e-scooters pilots that have value as a convenient and green transportation option for residents and visitors to Chicago,” said Ald. Howard Burnett (27th). “But any program that we authorize needs to focus on ensuring that vendors are committed to equity and safety in all their operations.”

The city required vendors to place half of its fleet of scooters in what was called the Equity Priority Area — mainly covering the South and West Sides. Almost a quarter of all riders originated in equity zones, suggesting there is a demand of scooters in these neighborhoods.

Both Spin and Lime consistently met the requirement that scooters remain in those equity zones, but Bird was largely inconsistent.

The survey also showed costumers renting scooters in the equity zones went further and used those scooters longer, on average, than those renting scooters outside the zones.

Riders on average drove the scooters about 2.6 miles in the Equity Priority Area compared to 1.95 miles outside of it. Riders also occupied the scooters for 27.6 minutes on average in the zones compared to 15.62 minutes outside the zones.

The pilot was initially met with skepticism as some Chicagoans took issue with scooters being abandoned in the middle of sidewalks and some feared injuries from reckless scooter drivers.

City officials believe a new requirement that scooters be locked to a fixed object helped reduce sidewalk cluttering.

The city also reported 171 probable emergency room visits because of e-scooter accidents during the 2020 pilot — down from 2019’s 192 accidents. About 93% of those injuries in 2020 were e-scooter riders; 5% were pedestrians injured by an e-scooter. None of the patients were admitted to the hospital during an ER visit, and 98% of patients were discharged with non-serious injuries.