Ready or Not, 10 Different Scooter Companies Hit the Streets Starting Saturday

Proper scooter protocol, from the city of Chicago's new scooter flyer.
Proper scooter protocol, from the city of Chicago's new scooter flyer.

The Chicago transportation scene is about to become a little more, um, interesting.

Today the city of Chicago announced the ten, count ’em, ten dockless electric scooter companies participating in the four-month pilot on the West and Northwest sides, starting this Saturday. That means that a total of 2,500 of these gizmos will be ridden by folks sharing streets and bike lanes, and off-street trails with other users, and parked on sidewalks, hopefully out of the way of pedestrians and wheelchair users. (Scooters may be ridden on all off-street trails within the pilot area, with the notable exception of the busy Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, due to a Chicago Park District prohibition.)

Here are the ten companies participating in the four-month test:

  • Bird
  • Bolt
  • grüv
  • JUMP
  • Lime
  • Lyft
  • Sherpa
  • Spin
  • VeoRide
  • Wheels

It’s worth noting that Lyft is the company that runs the city-owned Divvy bike-share system. Their arch-rival Uber owns JUMP. Bird and Lime are two of the most prominent scooter companies at this stage of the fledgling industry. VeoRide is the only Chicago-based vendor. Each company may deploy 250 vehicles.

On the bright side, scooters offer zippy, sweat-and-exercise-free ride that may appeal to some people who don’t use bike-share, so they could replace some private car and ride-hailing trips. They may work as an option for some people with physical challenges that prevent them from riding a bike. And some aldermen have expressed the hope that they can help fill in gaps in the transportation network in areas with mediocre transit access.

Screen Shot 2019-06-11 at 3.16.10 PM
Don’t be a jerk when you use a scooter! Image from the city’s new flyer.

The potential downsides include the relatively high risk of injuries for users as well as pedestrians, since scooters are commonly, though illegally, ridden on sidewalks. Speaking from experience, it seems like a good idea to strap-on a helmet if you’re going to ride one of these gadgets any distance, especially on your first trips, which is when a third of all scooter injuries take place. In addition to the aforementioned sidewalk clutter issue, vandalism eyesores are a common annoyance in scooter cities — there’s a whole Instagram account dedicated to images of scooters being destroyed.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s look at the nitty-gritty of the upcoming pilot. Here’s the 50-mile-square coverage area; geofencing will make the devices gradually slow to a halt if they are taken outside of the pilot zone, so don’t expect to see any public scooters on the Lakefront Trail anytime soon. For equity purposes, vendors are required to deploy 25 percent of their fleets in each of the two priority areas, which have relatively few Divvy stations.

The scooter pilot area.
The scooter pilot area.

The scooters are limited to 15 mph, cannot be ridden on sidewalks, and have a curfew — the companies must remove them from the streets between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. each day, during which time they will be recharged. The plus side of that policy is that it will help prevent people from scooting while intoxicated (although I’d certainly rather be struck by a drunk scooter rider than a drunk driver.) The downside is that it will generate a lot of motor vehicle trips by the distribution crews, possibly canceling out any environmental benefits of the devices.

According to the pilot rules, improperly parked scooters must be moved out of the way within two hours. Vendors must provide the city with real-time data on operations, ridership, and safety, or risk getting their license to operate revoked.

Through the application process, the scooter companies were required to submit plans for how they will engage with local businesses; provide equitable services to folks without bank accounts, credit cards and/or smartphones; ensure access for people with disabilities; and hire locally. Highlights of the plans include:

  • Scooters with seats to allow for easier access to people with disabilities
  • The ability for scooters to be unlocked via text for those without smartphones
  • A cash payment option for unbanked people
  • Plans to engage the local merchants to provide free helmets to users

The city says it and the vendors are rolling out an education campaign to promote safe riding, encourage helmet use, inform users of the 18 or older age requirement (16 with a guardian’s consent), and demonstrate proper parking and riding protocol. A safe-riding and proper parking flyer will be distributed to scooter users, community groups, alderman, and other stakeholders.

Over the four-month period, the city will seek feedback from residents through surveys, 311 and vendor data, and regular stakeholder meetings to check in on how the pilot is going. The city says the pilot’s results will inform future policymaking.

Rolling on a VeoRide scooter in Chicago.
Rolling on a VeoRide scooter on Halsted south of Madison.

The participating vendors say they’re stoked to hit the streets of Chicago for the city’s first public scooter pilot. “As the only e-scooter shared program provider based in Chicago, we are proud to be chosen to help the city cut down on traffic congestion, pollution and commuting stress,”said VeoRide’s CEO, Candice Xie in a statement, adding that the company’s devices “offer residents a new, affordable and convenient alternative to handle the last mile of their commutes, including the often logistically tough trek from trains and bus stations to their homes.”

“Uber is thrilled to have its state-of-the-art JUMP scooters included in Chicago’s first-ever scooter pilot program,” said local JUMP manager Robert Eckhardt in a statement. “We look forward to working closely with the city to continue expanding micromobility options to all Chicagoans while encouraging safe riding behaviors, from wearing helmets to following the rules of the road.”

So get ready, Chicago, come Saturday there’s going to be a new way to get around town — for better or worse.

For more information on the scooter pilot, go to: www.chicago.gov/scooters

  • rwy

    Giving away free helmets isn’t good enough. If we expect riders to use a helmet, then it needs to be locked to the scooter.

  • what_eva

    way too many companies. It’s a mess if you have an account with one or two but you only find scooters from the other 8

  • johnaustingreenfield

    So, you’d be comfortable using a helmet that has been used by a zillion other strangers (assuming someone could come up with a safe one-size-fits-all model)?

  • rwy

    Not really. But I’m also not willing to lug around a helmet.

  • hopeyglass

    the strange pointed outrage from subsets of armchair advocates about BIG SCOOTER is bizarre to me. I’m no fan of disposable things littering the landscape, but dockless bikes were like that as well, and as long as we’re on a slippery slope, buying tons of new fancy bike stuff isn’t exactly carbon neutral (source: I know where all the bike shit arrives across the ocean from!). if folks are truly concerned about pedestrians and vulnerable users of the road being harmed by the scooters, I think I’d rather see interest in the larger, sh*tty picture like 9 people being killed for walking and continued “meh” about the state of pedestrian affairs and overall road calming, rather than “but they’ll block my bike lane!” or w/e.

    mostly, though, I find it very, very odd. / lots of scooters in the Cities, they are litter and ubiquitous, and they are not really any sort of big deal. finding ANY interest in improving bus service, on the other hand…

  • LMrides

    Also a legit concern – I live in the pilot area, just a block from one of the priority areas, and I’ve ridden a Bird scooter across several miles in other cities. They are really twitchy and feel unstable, riding on the street with them feels very weird initially, and I’m a person who regularly bikes in traffic. The roadways in the pilot area are rule-of-thumb not smooth, so how are people not going to be hitting multiple potholes and flying off these scooters?

  • Michael
  • Jason

    And each company can only deploy 250 scooters. Way too fee per company. It’s guaranteeing that you get clusters of them in hot zones, with none in most of the test area.

  • rohmen

    You list a few pretty serious negatives (scooters being disposable and the fact that they often liter the landscape), and then seemingly shrug them off and judge others for caring about them. The same issue may definitely be present in dockless bikes, but that’s also why many in Chicago have supported the slow roll out of those as well to deal with the issues.

    What concerns me most about scooters is that they really are disposable, and it appears they don’t last all that long before (most likely) hitting a landfill. There’s not much being written about that issues, but it’s been covered a bit: https://qz.com/1561654/how-long-does-a-scooter-last-less-than-a-month-louisville-data-suggests/

    …..and speaking for myself, I’m pretty capable of questioning scooters and wanting to see them done right, while still finding enough time to care about bus service and other transit issues. I’d bet most on here reading your comment are the same.

  • hopeyglass

    Sure, that’s just not the rhetoric I see. I’m more interested in taking the stance of if it helps calm streets for the majority of users, and supposing more people are using scooters than single occupancy vehicles, I have no problem supporting active transportation. It is important for things to be done correctly, and disposable culture is gross, but going the completely polar opposite direction in terms of sometimes a little bit pointed hand-wringing about how Big Scooter will destroy us all and is antithetical to… I guess bikes as an active transportation option seems a bit much at this juncture.

  • hopeyglass

    I suppose they might, but that will be for them to find out – does that still mean they shouldn’t be an option for people who might enjoy them and use them as an active transportation option? I’ve certainly flown off my bike in terrible pavement conditions.

  • rohmen

    I think a big part of the blame for the over-reaction still gets placed at the feet of these self-proclaimed “disrupter” companies. They come in touting the whole alternative transport angle to make them look like they’re trying to save the world (Uber was the same way), and proceed to dump a product onto the street with known issues, and basically take the position of negative externalities (and long term longevity even, really) be damned.

    It wouldn’t be so bad if we hadn’t already seen the issues play out the same way with countless other “revolutionary” transport options—including private dockless bikeshare, which has been as much as a failure as it has been a success (at least until the big VC backed guys started taking it all over).

  • what_eva

    I’m wondering how that’ll go. Presumably the city is assuming that each company is going to go out with trucks and pick them all up every night, then put them out in the required 25% in each focus area each morning. Reality is that the companies will pay people to pull them off the streets and charge them overnight (that’s how these get charged in other cities). But people will just drop them as close to their house as possible.

  • AMH

    Exactly what I was thinking. Chances are low that you’ll be able to use a given scooter unless you juggle ten different apps.

  • That is indeed how the big boy scooter companies work. Look up Revel scooter in NYC. Those types of shared scooters (with helmets) have taken over European cities.

  • rohmen

    This seems like just checking a box to avoid future legal trouble.

    Leaving aside the ick factor (anyone with a young kid knows head lice is a serious threat anywhere, regardless of income level), you still have no idea what condition the helmet is in. They’re not inspecting the helmets every ride, if at all. The helmet could have been dropped and compromised in terms of function, and a person would have no idea.

    To each there own, but I’ll lug around my own.

  • Gary Chicago

    Clearly none of these scooters companies even looked at Chicago pot holed , for ever under construction streets / I sure hope these scooters are all wheeled drive

  • SloMo2020

    For me the bottom line on all this is that “Big Scooter” is a lousy business model that can’t sustain itself:

    Any bottom-line evaluation of Uber must start with the fact that the company has not built the proverbial “better mousetrap.” It has not materially reduced the cost or improved the productivity of taxis. Uber has not discovered a way to profitably provide enough taxi capacity to ensure users could instantly get one whenever they touched a smartphone button. But the company did discover an innovative, disruptive strategy that allowed a small group of private investors to create almost $100 billion in corporate value out of thin air.

  • Kevin M

    NYT Opinion piece on “Scooter Madness” makes a valid case against the no-plan/pure-profit-driven “roll-out” of scooters across country:
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/17/opinion/electric-scooters-nashville.html
    If scooters eventually lead to a proliferation of protected lanes and such across the U.S., that will be their only social benefit. But, the way this is going, a *lot* of people are going to get hurt and killed along the path to that potential positive outcome. And, I’m not at all confident that the public and leaders in most U.S. cities are actually ready to build Amterdam-like infrastructure for scooters/bikes. Instead, I expect this scooter experiment to be a painful skid of years of crashes, deaths, and waste before some lawsuit forced a city council to ban them (and then others will follow).
    Privately-owned scooter-sharing is a menace to society.

  • Kevin M

    Re: the qz.com article
    The author crunches some data and makes the argument that private scooter-sharing is currently a money-losing business (not unlike “ride-sharing”).
    “It will require great leaps in durability, and a much cheaper price point, for shared electric scooters to pay for themselves.”
    I agree that is also concerns me how wasteful these things are–from an environmental point of view. A well-built, well-maintained bicycle can be used for decades–and there are old Scwhinns and Treks all across the country that prove this ever day.
    There’s just not much profit in long-term transportation! So, what is a hungry vulture capitalist to do?

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