3 vendors for scooter pilot, slated to start 8/12, don’t include Lyft or seated scooters

Riding scooters on the Lakefront Trail last year. The path will be off-limits to dockless e-scooter riders during this year's pilot. Photo: John Greenfield
Riding scooters on the Lakefront Trail last year. The path will be off-limits to dockless e-scooter riders during this year's pilot. Photo: John Greenfield

Update 7/31/20, 9:15 AM: Yesterday Streetsblog writer Imelda March encountered staff from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office and Lime in Horner Park. “They will launch a seated scooter, but those supposedly will be for people with mobility issues,” March said. “They will be available by the user calling a number and having one delivered. At least, that is the preliminary spiel I got.”

Update 7/31/20, 5:45 PM: Lyft issued a statement claiming that it didn’t apply for the scooter pilot because it wants to focus on the Divvy bike-share expansion. “Lyft is committed to providing mobility options for all Chicagoans and we are thrilled about our upcoming citywide expansion of Divvy. We have spent the better part of the last year working with communities in Chicago’s South and West Sides to prepare for new stations and e-bikes. In order to prioritize our work with CDOT to expand Divvy and provide the highest possible experience for Divvy members, Lyft opted out of submitting an application that mirrored requests of this year’s scooter pilot. We are dedicated to the long-term success of micromobility in Chicago, and we look forward to future opportunities to work with the City to combine the benefits of bikes and scooters into one Divvy membership.”

Today the city of Chicago announced the three vendors for this summer’s dockless electric scooter pilot, tentatively scheduled to launch on Wednesday, August 12: Bird, Lime, and Spin. So if you were a fan of any of the other seven scooter companies involved in last year’s pilot, including Lyft (the Divvy concessionaire) or Wheels (the only firm to offer the arguably-safer seated scooters), you’re out of luck.

The Chicago Department of Transportation  and the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection received and evaluated four complete applications for the 2020 pilot, and gave the three companies the OK to move forward. According to CDOT and BACP, “The selected companies demonstrated in their applications the ability to meet Chicago’s strict operational, safety and equity guidelines for the four-month scooter pilot.”

A Streetsblog reader learned via a Freedom of Information Act request that Wheels was the fourth applicant.

“We have designed a new pilot program that expands on what we learned during last year’s pilot and will test the viability of scooters as a mobility option across Chicago’s neighborhoods this year,” said CDOT chief Gia Biagi in a statement. “Particularly during this public health crisis, it’s important that CDOT continues to pilot additional and innovative options for Chicagoans to get around.”

The 2020 pilot include 10,000 scooters across the city with 3,333 scooters per company. Scooters are limited to 15 mph, are banned from sidewalks, and can only be operated from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day, a strategy to prevent intoxicated riding.

New to the 2020 pilot, all e-scooters must be equipped with built-in locks, and the scooters must be secured to a fixed object like a bike rack or a sign pole (although bus stop signs are a no-no) at the end of the trips, a tactic to prevent sidewalk clutter, tripping hazards, and barriers to people with disabilities. This will also allow vendors to leave the scooters on the street rather than rounding them up each night, which will cut down on driving by their workers.

All of the city is fair game for riding this time, except the Lakefront Trail, the Bloomingdale Trail and the Central Business District. The CBD is defined by the area bounded by Roosevelt Road, Halsted Street, Division Street, and Lake Michigan, minus the area north of Chicago Avenue and west of Clark Street.

The new pilot map with priority zones. Image: CDOT
The new pilot map with priority zones. Image: CDOT

Designated “equity priority areas” cover about 43 percent of the pilot area. At least 50 percent of each vendor’s devices must be deployed within these areas; the city says it will check for compliance twice per day. “The equity priority area covers neighborhoods where residents face systemic disadvantages following generations of underinvestment and inequitable access to transportation and other resources,” CDOT and BACP stated. Vendors are required to provide the city with real-time data on operations, ridership, and safety, and the city may suspend or revoke the licenses of vendors that fail to comply with the rules.

“Chicago is dedicated to testing the viability of innovative mobility options that have the potential to improve transportation access across the City,” said BACP commissioner Rosa Escareno in a statement. “Vendors will be held to the highest standards of accountability in how effectively they manage impacts on the public right-of-way and how they promote the safety of both scooter riders and other people who are in the right-of-way.”

Once the four-month test wraps up on December 12, city staff will evaluate the pilot, including using ridership data and feedback from both riders and non-riders, before making a decision about whether dockless scooters should be allowed in the city on a longterm basis.

It’s worth noting that yesterday Chicago launched the new Divvy e-bikes, which offer similar flexibility in terms of being able to park on racks and poles instead of just at docking stations. Therefore, this new city-owned micromobility option was given a couple of weeks head start over its privately-owned competitors.

A Wheelz scooter. Photo: John Greenfield
A Wheelz scooter. Photo: John Greenfield

Streetsblog readers had mixed reactions to the news that Bird, Lime, and Spin are the final three. Dockless scooter-share has seen an exponentially higher fatality rate than than bike-share, which may be partly due to the standing position and small wheels on typical e-scooters. Wheels’ vehicles offer a seated ride and larger, more pothole-friendly wheels.

These Streetsblog readers lamented the fact that Lyft and Wheels won’t be participating in the scooter test.

Oh well, even if you’re not stoked about the brands that made the final cut, if you’re a scooter fan, I’m guessing you can’t wait to be able to go for a spin again. And the rest of us can rest easy knowing that, with “lock-to” technology in place (something  Streetsblog Chicago advocated for), there should be fewer blocked sidewalks and vandalism eyesores.

Follow John Greenfield on Twitter at @greenfieldjohn.

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