Could motorized scooter-sharing be Chicago’s next big thing?

SHARE Could motorized scooter-sharing be Chicago’s next big thing?

With motorized scooter sharing in a dozen cities already and the biggest operator eyeing the Chicago market, Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) is trying to stay one step ahead of the curve by establishing rules of the road before electric scooters arrive. | Bird on Instagram

Chicago already has Divvy bike sharing stations, dockless bike sharing, traditional car sharing and the free-floating version.

Could motorized scooter-sharing be the next big thing?

It might, if Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) has his way.

With motorized scooter sharing in a dozen cities already and the biggest operator eyeing the Chicago market, Moreno is trying to stay one step ahead of the curve by establishing rules of the road before electric scooters arrive.

“It’s yet another mode of transportation. All of these innovative ideas are the way we’re going and we need to embrace them and regulate them if we’re really serious about reducing traffic and reducing air pollution,” Moreno said Tuesday. “Unlike Uber and Lyft that just went out and started doing it and then we did the regulations afterwards, we’re trying to prevent them from operating until we get some regulations in place.”

Moreno acknowledged that in other cities, electric scooter riders have ignored helmet rules and traffic laws. They’ve parked illegally, ridden scooters on sidewalks and plowed into pedestrians.

Those are the problems he’s trying to avoid — or minimize — when scooter-sharing debuts in Chicago to an audience he believes will welcome a sweat-free alternative to bike sharing.

“On a day like today if I was riding my bike to the City Council, I’d be drenched by the time I got there,” Moreno said.

“Perhaps folks who aren’t in shape to ride a bike, they can use these. It takes less exercise.”

Moreno’s ordinance would require interested companies to first obtain an “Electric Scooter Share License.”

To qualify, companies would need to provide a minimum of 100 scooters operating at a maximum speed of 20 miles-per-hour. Companies would be required to pay the city a daily “infrastructure, public property repair and maintenance endowment” of $1 per vehicle.

Motorized scooters would have to be “ridden on streets and, where available, in bike lanes and bike paths,” the ordinance states. They must stay “to the right of street lanes and offer the right of way to bicycles on bike lanes and bike paths.” Helmets are “encouraged for all users and required for minors to the extend minors are permitted as users.”

Well aware that parking has been an issue in other cities, Moreno is proposing that scooters be parked “upright on hard surfaces in the furniture zone of the sidewalk, beside a bicycle rack or in another area specifically designated for bicycle parking.”

They are forbidden from blocking “the pedestrian clear zone area of the sidewalk”; any fire hydrant, call box or other emergency facility, bus bench or utility pole or box.”

No more than 50 percent of a company’s scooters can be located in the “downtown business district” at the start of each business day.

Santa Monica, California-based Bird bills itself as the nation’s “leading last-mile electric vehicle sharing company,” having raised $100 million and launched operations in a dozen cities.

Its scooters are parked at Bird’s “nests” on private property, and rented via app for $1 down and 15 cents a mile. When the user is done, the scooter is parked wherever that city permits. At night, the company retrieves its scooters, recharges them and returns them to the “nests” by the following morning.

Bird spokesman Kenneth Baer said his company welcomes the Chicago regulations as a vehicle to avoid the start-up problems it has encountered in other major cities.

“When we launch, we comply with the laws on the books. It happens to be that, in a good number of cities, the law is silent or not clear how to treat this new technology. So that causes some of the turbulence,” Baer said.

“Chicago is being forward-thinking here. … If the rules of the road are laid down [in advance] then its’ very clear.”

Nashville has ordered Bird to cease operations until the city can establish rigid regulations governing its operations.

Santa Monica has accused Bird of operating without permits, forcing the hometown start-up to pay $300,000 in fines and fees. Santa Monica has also approved an emergency ordinance empowering the city to impound illegally parked scooters.

The cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin, Texas have also agreed to regulate and limit scooter-sharing.

Baer hinted strongly that Bird is contemplating a move to Chicago and was among the “bunch of companies” to contact Moreno.

“We think Ald. Moreno’s proposal really would give millions of Chicagoans a great way to get around the city without adding traffic congestion or carbon emissions. It’s a very balanced proposal,” he said.

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