My Experiences Test-Riding Scooters in Chicago

A scooter rider (not Lynda) on Milwaukee Avenue in River North. Photo: John Greenfield
A scooter rider (not Lynda) on Milwaukee Avenue in River North. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week I tried out a few dockless electric scooters in the Chicago pilot area in the West Loop near the CTA’s Morgan ‘L’ station. With ten different companies participating in the program, for a total of 2,500 scooters, I had a plethora of options. and since the West Loop is a hub for young tech professionals, a target demographic for scooters, I wasn’t surprised to find that there were plenty of the vehicles available what seemed like every street in the neighborhood.

I downloaded the VeoRide, Lime, and JUMP (owned by Uber) apps and decided to test-drive a scooter from VeoRide, the one Chicago-based company in the pilot. [Watch a “Chicago Tonight” discussion of the pilot with Veoride CEO Candice Xie and Streetsblog’s John Greenfield here.] As someone who is used to walking, biking, and taking transit, riding a scooter is not on my normal list of options, but I was curious if it could become something I could add to my mobility toolbox.

It was fairly easy to unlock a scooter once I located a VeoRide vehice. I used the $5 credit code attached on a paper to the scooter. I unlocked it using the QR code. 

Actually getting started scooting was the difficult part for me. It seems each scooter has its own peculiarities, and took me a moment to figure out that I needed to kickstart the device without letting go of the throttle. When I first got going, it didn’t feel smooth, stable, or secure. According to a recent safety study in Austin, Texas, one out of three scooter injuries happened on a user’s first trip. I can easily see why that’s the case, because there’s definitely a learning curve. There was a ton of scooter riders on the Randolph Street restaurant district near where I started my ride, so that made it slightly less intimidating. 

I’m used to powering and controlling my own movement on a bike, so scooter riding does not come naturally to me. It’s hard to turn over most of the control to the scooter. I did enjoy riding on Lake Street since there were painted bike lanes and less car traffic. Still, I felt less confident riding in bike lanes with no physical separation from cars than I would have on my bike.

Most of the companies are charging $1 to unlock a scooter plus 15 cents per minute in Chicago. That can quickly add up: A ten minute trip at up to 15 mph, covering no more than 2.5 miles, costs as much as a ride on the ‘L’. So I question how accessible scooters are to low-income Chicagoans. The rules of the pilot also require the companies to provide a way for unbanked people and those without smartphones to use their product, but there’s no evidence that this is actually an option yet in Chicago. For example, a Google search for “How to use a VeoRide scooter without a smartphone in Chicago” turned up no obvious answers.

I still want to be open-minded about scooters because some have found them to be useful and enjoyable. I also haven’t tried all of the scooter models yet, so I’m sure there are variations in how they feel. In addition to VeoRide, I tried a JUMP scooter and it did feel smoother, at least starting out. On Randolph Street, I saw a group of young people who seemed to be having a lot of fun.

I think the biggest issue with scooters right now is the lack of car-free lanes and paths where they, along with bikes and other personal mobility devices, can be ridden safely, particularly on the West and South sides. From the scooters I have tried, I also think the technology itself has to be tweaked to ensure a smooth start and safe stopping. Once you’ve unlocked a scooter, I don’t think it’s intuitive how to use it. It takes some trial and error, and a busy street may not be the best place for a test-drive. I think scooter companies need to invest in more education because simply putting scooters on the street is not sufficient. Car driver education is so embedded in our society, but we don’t invest much in helping people learn to safely use other forms of mobility. 

For now, I’ll happily stick to my bike. By after the four-month pilot ends on October 15, we’ll see if scooters have a future in Chicago.

  • rwy

    I rode one last week. It was one of the hot days, so not having to pedal and having the cooling wind was very much a relief. I didn’t feel confident on it, so I didn’t ride it at it’s max speed.

    I believe that scooters are taken off the street after snowfall. People still have places to go when it snows. Micromobility is useful to many, but it shouldn’t be done instead of building more public transit.

    Also, what’s up with scanning drivers licences? Does the law require a DL to ride an electric scooter?

  • Chip Skipper

    I hope after this pilot ends that they decide that they need to put these scooters in docs I am so sick and tired of seeing the scooters clogging up bus stops and everywhere in front of an el station where they are in everybody’s way.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I agree that many of the sidewalk blockage / vandalism eyesore issues related to scooters could be solved by requiring them to be “lock-to,” with built-in locks for securing them to bike racks or poles. To avoid creating a parking crunch for private bikes, the companies should be required to pay for on-street parking corrals.

  • JacobEPeters

    probably to confirm age since there is an age requirement to ride the scooters

  • Gary Chicago

    Interesting the comments and feeling is what many car drivers said about bicyclist and now bicyclist are saying about the scooters
    We need a diverse mode of transportation in this city to accommodate all citizens car , ride-share bikes , scooters ,public trans . This means we all pay for transportation infrastructures

  • rohmen

    Most of the companies are charging $1 to unlock a scooter plus 15 cents per minute in Chicago. That can quickly add up: A ten minute trip at up to 15 mph, covering no more than 2.5 miles, costs as much as a ride on the ‘L’. So I question how accessible scooters are to low-income Chicagoans

    Much like bikeshare, scooters seem best at plugging the 2 to 3 mile gaps that exist in transit from getting between neighborhoods, rather than an 8 mile or so commute to the loop, etc. With that in mind, I’d argue the fact that a 2.5 mile trip did only cost as much as an L ride (and probably pretty close to a bus ride), while giving much more flexibility, shows they’re not that inaccessible when compared to standard transit rates.

  • Jennifer Melfi

    if you go to san diego where it has been active for a while it isn’t nearly the same issue. Once the idiots get over the fun it gets a lot better.

  • R. C. Munson

    Good points on the safety and lack of bike lanes… and safe places to learn how the darn things work.

    Your bike analogy is well-taken. Imagine the confusion and problems if bike share tripled the number of bikes in six months and had twelve different systems and types of bikes to get used to ?

    I still maintain the scooter program has grown too fast and the City would be wise to constrain it now before it ends badly after the fourth month trial.

  • Michael

    Unless, of course, you have a month CTA Ride pass. Then taking the bus is no extra charge, so taking a scooter is above and beyond your month pass which is how many everyday users of public transit ride.

  • rohmen

    Fair enough, but I don’t think the test for whether these private devices are an affordable price is whether they cost anything above the price charged for public transit. The pricing for a 2 to 3 mile trip on a scooter is about the same as what a bus or train trip would cost, and I’d argue that’s pretty affordable/approachable for many. In fact, I’d actually argue it’s a low enough price that I doubt scooters are sustainable long term at that price point, which is another issue I think we’ll see as the number of providers get whittled down.

  • rohmen

    I don’t generally buy into conspiracy theories, but the fact that almost all scooter companies have been cited and fined by the City for compliance issues, but Lyft hasn’t, suggests to me that this is a bit of a dog and pony show before the City awards a monopoly on scooters to Lyft to tie it into Divvy. The City will get to argue they allowed everyone to try, but Lyft was the only one that cared enough to follow the rules to a tee.

  • R. C. Munson

    I don’t consider your opinion a conspiracy theory, it sounds like how Chicago conducts its business.

    These new mobility modes (docked bikes and scooters) should not be “regulated” monopolies, basically like the CTA or Metra. The quicker we get out of that 1960s model and use modes that can actually compete with the car, the faster we will have viable alternatives to the car.

    That said, scooters have come to Chicago primarily as entertainment and not as active transportation. As such, scooters are a distraction from getting people out of their cars. Better to focus on reducing the subsidies to cars and having their users pay their fair share.