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They’re back! Scooters hit the streets again in Chicago

5:24 PM CDT on August 13, 2020

A Wheelz scooter during last year’s scooter pilot Photo: John Greenfield

Scooter fans rejoice! Electric scooters are back on Chicago’s streets from now until mid-December with a greater number of scooters and a significantly larger service area than the city’s first scooter pilot. Unlike last year’s limited pilot area, this year’s will span the entire city, minus the Central Business District. The CBD is bounded by Roosevelt Road, Halsted Street, Division Street, and Lake Michigan, minus the area north of Chicago Avenue and west of Clark Street. The devices are also banned from the Lakefront Trail and all shoreline areas east of the path, as well as the Bloomingdale Trail.

A larger service area is not the only difference; riders will be required to lock scooters to a bike rack or pole at the end of their ride. The city has installed hundreds of new racks ahead of the scooter pilot. Riders are prompted to take a photo of the scooter locked to a fixed object. I am unsure how it will work with users who do not have smartphones.

Lime, Bird, and Spin were selected as vendors for this year’s pilot; 10 companies participated in the e-scooter pilot in 2019. Each company is allowed to deploy up to 3,333 scooters. Last year, each was allowed 250. Vendors will be required to deploy half of their devices throughout priority areas on the South and West sides. The city will be checking twice a day as to whether half the scooters are within the priority area.

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

Companies will be required to clean their scooters each time their staff come in contact with them. Riders are encouraged to wear gloves and wash and/or disinfect their hands after their ride.

I’m sure most of you reading this are curious as to how much these scooters will cost. During the first week of the pilot Spin will not be charging an unlocking fee, and will charge 39 cents per minute. Lime scooters cost $1 to unlock, 39 cents per minute, and 19 cents per minute in priority areas. Bird scooters are $1 to unlock and 32 cents per minute.

There are a few ways to obtain a discount. Lime is providing essential workers with free rides. You can apply for this discount here. Bird will also provide free rides to health care workers and emergency personnel. You will presumably need to send in a photo id and a work ID to If approved you will be allowed two 30 minute rides a day. If you’re not an essential worker, taking Bird’s in-app safety survey will earn you a free ride. Lastly, Spin offers discounted rides for folks with low incomes. To access cheaper rides you must provide documentation providing you earn a low income. Spin's website also provides options for folks who don’t have a smartphone or a credit card.

Scooters are available from  5 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day. [Editor's Note: CDOT stated via Twitter that scooter vendors will be required to end service at 9pm until Monday August 17th. Unfortunately no rationale was provided.] Similar to the Divvy e-bikes, scooters are capped at 15 mph. Riders are prohibited from riding on the sidewalk and must lock their scooter to a bike rack, city sign, or a pole at the end of their ride.

I hope these scooters provide a fun connection to transit, for work commutes, or recreational scooting. Riders in the priority zones will have another option to get around the city at a cost comparable to the Divvy e-bikes (15 cents per minute for Divvy members and 20 cents per minute for day pass users) if they choose a Lime scooter. Given the high rates of underemployment and unemployment during COVID-19, I am curious as to how well companies can achieve the racial and economic equity goals of the pilot.

The first day of the second scooter pilot was not without its issues. One user noticed that the exclusion zone was much larger than the stated exclusion zone. A Lime representative confirmed on Twitter that the city " instituted a temporary exclusion zone until Monday at the earliest." [Editor's Note: The exclusion zone is now set to the original boundaries but the fact that the city took such an action without warning follows a troubling trend of mobility being limited based on the mayor's whims.] Additionally, the first day of the scooter pilot included a rider being injured by a hit and run driver. I have been unable to get details as to where the crash occurred but I do wish the rider a speedy recovery and hope the responsible driver comes forward.

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