E-scooters, the ever-polarizing rideshare option, are headed to a street corner near you starting August 12, when scooters from Bird, Lime and Spin will be deployed throughout Chicago as part of the city’s second pilot program.
The three vendors, chosen through an application process earlier this year, will each be allowed to distribute up to 3,333 scooters throughout most areas of the city, according to a press release from the Chicago Department of Transportation. The Lakefront Trail and the 606 are excluded from the pilot area, as is a designated “central business area” in the Loop. It's a much larger coverage area than the original scooter pilot program, which ran June 15 through October 15 of 2019, featured 10 different vendors and only included zones on the Northwest and West Sides.
What else is new this time around? If last year’s pilot conjures memories of super-fast scooters careening down crowded pedestrian areas at 15mph (and ending up wedged in trees), take heart: Under the new pilot, riders are officially banned from riding down sidewalks, and will have to take an in-app safety quiz before they embark on a trip. Riders will also be required to lock scooters to a fixed object in order to end their trip, a change that’s meant to address accessibility issues raised from abandoned scooters blocking sidewalk traffic. Suitable “fixed objects” include bike racks, street signs and old parking meters, though you should avoid bus signs, building facades and fire hydrants. The scooters come equipped with built-in locking mechanisms, so don’t fret about carrying around a U-lock.
There’s also the question of purpose: In both the original pilot and this year’s iteration, the city has touted e-scooter “micromobility” options as a potential balm for transit inequity and a way to reduce single-occupancy car rides. As for the transit equity angle, vendors under the new pilot will be required to deploy at least half of their fleet to designated zones on the South and West Sides of the city with comparatively limited mobility options. But despite the emphasis, there’s reason to believe these goals will prove difficult to execute. A city analysis from last year’s pilot found that 77 percent of trips began and ended in the more transit-rich (and thus lower-priority) eastern area of the pilot zone. What’s more, half of all trips started or ended near transit options like bus stops—though it’s unclear whether riders used the scooters to supplement or entirely replace existing public transit. New data from this go-around will likely determine whether the e-scooters are here to stay alongside Divvy e-bikes and other micromobility rideshare programs.
The 2020 pilot will run until mid-December, though we can't imagine sliding around the city on a scooter when there's a chill in the air or ice on the roads. If you're going for a ride, stay safe out there!
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