With less than three weeks to go before Mayor Rahm Emanuel leaves office, City Hall moved Wednesday to embark on a pilot program to test electric scooters in Chicago.
In mid-March, a “mobility task force” led by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Illinois congressman, proposed that Chicago launch a “scooter-sharing pilot” with speeds capped at 15 m.p.h. to identify safety issues and pinpoint ways to reduce “sidewalk clutter.”
On Wednesday, two city departments — Transportation and Business Affairs and Consumer Protection — did just that.
They opened applications to vendors interested in participating in a four-month, 2,500 shared scooter pilot, tentatively scheduled to launch June 15 on a designated area of the West Side.
That is, unless Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot pulls the plug on the experiment.
In a press release opening the competition, Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld was quoted as saying that the city “committed to improving transportation access, reducing single-occupancy vehicle use, and providing first- and last-mile solutions to support public transit.”
“This program is designed to test how scooters as a mobility option can support these goals and to evaluate the impact of the technology on Chicagoans,” Scheinfeld was quoted as saying.
During the four-month test, users will be free to “access the scooters wherever it is legal to lock a bike in the public way,” according to City Hall.
The plan calls for scooter riders to “use a smartphone to unlock and ride the devices within the pilot area, though vendors will offer services for non-smartphone users and cash-based options,” according to the city.
The pilot zone will be bounded by Halsted Street and the Chicago River on the east, Irving Park Road on the north, the City limits and Harlem Avenue on the west and the Chicago River on the south.
Two priority areas have been identified within the pilot zone, where at least 25% of scooters must be placed every morning.
“This geography, and particularly the priority areas, were selected for the opportunity to pilot scooters in a variety of community types,” BACP Commissioner Rosa Escareno was quoted as saying.
“We want to support innovation and new emerging industries — this pilot program will allow the city and its residents to better understand how electric shared scooters impact the city. We have engaged with advocates, community groups, business groups, and elected officials within the pilot area and look forward to working closely with residents to evaluate the program.”
The scooter program is made possible through an Emerging Business Permit issued by BACP and will include 2,500 scooters in the pilot area, divided evenly among all selected vendors.
To minimize sidewalk clutter, scooters will need to be parked “upright; away from street corners, bus stops, and buildings; and with a minimum six-foot clearance on the sidewalk,” the city said.
Designated vendors will be required to “retrieve and move improperly parked electric shared scooters within two hours.”
To ensure public safety, scooters will be banned from sidewalks and required to travel at speeds no greater than 15 miles-an-hour.
As additional safety features, scooters will be “equipped with a warning bell; front and rear lights’ hand and foot brakes, and a 24/7 phone number for each vendor.”
They will be allowed to operate between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. Vendors will be required to remove scooters from the public way every night and provide the city with “real-time and continuous data on operations, ridership, and safety.”
Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, welcomed the pilot as well as the rigid rules of the road established by the city.
“It will be important to prevent people from riding or parking scooters inappropriately on the sidewalk, or filling up the city’s already limited network of comfortable bike lanes,” Burke was quoted as saying in a statement.
Four months should be plenty of time to answer “legitimate questions about how scooters will fit in Chicago’s transportation network before committing to a permanent program,” Burke said.
“The permit includes several requirements designed to proactively address safety concerns, such as requiring users to submit photos of their parked scooter at the end of the trip,” he said.
Burke said he has also encouraged the city to “work with companies and businesses to create designated parking corrals and incentivize proper parking, especially in congested areas like Randolph Street in the West Loop and Milwaukee Avenue” throughWicker Park.
“In addition, we have urged the city to repurpose parking and travel lanes to bike/scooter lanes in the pilot’s areas busiest corridors to help limit sidewalk riding and encourage efficient travel,” he said.