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Photograph: Courtesy Spin

E-scooters will return to Chicago’s streets this spring

Up to three operators will deploy scooter fleets throughout the entire city, with some restrictions.

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

After conducting two electric scooter pilot programs, Chicago has cleared the way for up to three operators to launch e-scooter fleets in the city this spring. Earlier this week, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection launched the application process for a shared electric scooter license. Applications are due in February, and city official will select up to three companies that will be able to deploy scooters in the spring.

Up to 3,000 e-scooters will be deployed this spring, and you'll be able to use them on streets throughout the city—previous Chicago pilots geofenced the zippy rides so that they only worked in certain portions of the city. Building on learnings from the 2020 Chicago e-scooter pilot, the city will require all operators to "employ technology that can detect and reduce people riding e-scooters on sidewalks," meaning that scooters will stop working if you try to cruise down stretches of pedestrian pavement. Other areas that will be off-limits to scooter riders are the Lakefront Trail, the 606, the Chicago Riverwalk and the area around O’Hare Airport.

There's a long list of requirements that operators must meet to receive a shared electric scooter license, including the following:

  • All scooters must have "lock-to" technology that requires them to be locked to bike racks, street signs, etc. at the end of a ride.
  • At least 50 percent of scooters must be deployed in "Equity Priority Areas" on Chicago's South and West Sides.
  • Scooters may only operate between 5am and midnight.
  • At least 5 percent of each company's scooters must feature a seat so that riders with mobility limitations can use them.
  • All companies must provide free or discounted helmets for riders.
  • Companies are prohibited from requiring riders to pay in advance for more than one ride.

Initially, each operator will be able to deploy 1,000 e-scooters in Chicago. If operators meet ridership, safety, compliance and education requirements, that number will eventually increase. The ordinance that was passed by City Council allows for up to 12,500 e-scooters across all operators.

We'll have a better idea of which companies may be in the running to bring scooters to Chicago in the coming months. Earlier this week, Lime (which also participated in Chicago's 2019 and 2020 pilots) confirmed its intention to submit an application. But no matter who ends up operating Chicago's e-scooters, you can look forward to zipping around the city on a shared electric ride this summer.

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