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Permanent scooter program passes in committee, goes on for full Council vote on Thursday

5:24 PM CDT on October 13, 2021

A photo of orderly scooter parking posted by the new pro-scooter (and tie-die-friendly) Twitter feed Chicago Scooters Are Fine.

Today the Chicago City Council’s Transportation and Public Way Committee passed an ordinance permanently legalizing e-scooter share within the city. You can read yesterday's Streetsblog’s coverage of the ordinance to learn more background information.

The committee started off its meeting with the discussion of the scooter ordinance. A public comment period started off with Oboi Reed of the mobility justice nonprofit Equiticity. Reed shared his desire to see the city operationalize racial equity within the ordinance. “Good hearts and warm bodies come and go. Goofy smiles and awkward handshakes come and go. Shifting political winds come and go.” Further, Reed voiced a desire to see sixty six percent of the city’s scooter revenue be reinvested in Black and Brown communities and called for establishing clear racial equity performance measures that scooter operators would be required to meet. You can read Reed's/Equiticity's full statement on scooter share on Equiticity's blog.

South Shore Chamber of Commerce chair Cory Thames expressed support for a scooter-share program as an avenue to increase transportation options for South Shore residents and revenue for local businesses. 

Deputy managing commissioner for the Chicago Department of Transportation Kevin O’Malley began his remarks by stating that after two pilot program,s “We believe that these scooters can be an affordable, convenient and environmentally friendly way for Chicagoans to get around the city." O’Malley stated that the city would start off with around 6,000 scooters and that after “demonstrated demand,” an increase to up to 12,500 scooters could happen. Shared e-scooters would be allowed downtown but not on the Lakefront Trail. A new requirement for vendors would be to deploy sidewalk detection software to discourage sidewalk riding.

Alderman David Moore (17th) voiced a desire to see designated docking stations. LeAaron Foley of Lime stated that the ordinance gives "authority for the city to explore docking stations," which the scooter companies are "interested in."

Alderman Michael Rodriguez (22nd) spoke in favor of e-scooters as a way to reduce vehicle trips and their associated carbon emissions. Rodriguez asked about a part of the ordinance that would allow Lyft to add e-scooters within the Divvy system. The scooters within the Divvy system would be subject to the same agreement as the existing Lyft/Divvy contract with the city.

Alderman Andre Vasquez (40th) stated that the lock-to requirement and sidewalk detection software helped sell him on e-scooters after initially having reservations. Vasquez sees scooters as a way to bring a different type of customer to small businesses. He also shared that his experience becoming a new cyclist has helped him see the need to create “the kind of infrastructure that allows folks to use other types of transportation.” Vasquez then asked about the revenue e-scooters will bring in and if the ordinance allows the city to create a city-owned scooter fleet to help drive revenue. O'Malley responded that $4.4 million in licensing fees will be collected and the nine percent leasing tax will bring in nine cents for “every dollar of expense on e-scooter trips will bring in nine cents to the city.” He then stated at this time the city is not exploring a city-owned scooter program.

Alderman Jeannette Taylor (20th) was interested in racial equity and her constituents' access to jobs. Lime's Foley shared that the city’s most recent scooter pilot required fifty percent of a vendor's scooters to be in the designated equity zone on the South and West sides. Two thirds of trips on the South and West sides during the city’s last pilot program were with Lime. Foley also referenced Lime’s process to hire within underserved communities – 75 percent of Lime’s employees live in the equity zone. Bird representative Vaughn Roland shared Bird’s commitment to hire staff that reflect the city’s demographics.  In addition, the ordinance would require that licensees “employ city residents that have been historically disadvantaged in participating in the local economy.” Taylor asked how many scooters had been “lost.” Foley stated he did not have a number on that but that the “lock-to” requirement “drastically reduced” the numbert of missing scooters. Geofencing technology can also decrease the number of scooters being used in off-limits areas.

Alderman Sophia King (4th) asked about oversaturation and equity zones – ”If Hyde Park is an equity zone, does that mean 50 percent of the scooters would be there or would it be spread out?” O’Malley responded that scooters were required to be spread out over the equity zone, not concentrated in one area. King asked about docking stations. O’Malley stated that currently CDOT does not have the authority to create scooter docking stations but if the ordinance passes, CDOT would gain that authority. I was heartened to hear that King herself had ridden a scooter in her ward during the last scooter pilot and that this experience gave her a new perspective. King didn't elaborate as to what new insights she gleaned but I take her willingness to try a different travel mode as a sign she may be more open to conversations about non-car-based mobility options and the needed infrastructure to get more people using them.

Alderman Michael Scott (24th) wanted more information on geofencing. Bird's Roland explained that geofencing determines where scooters can and cannot operate. Bird and Lime have the ability to reduce the speed of the scooters through geofencing as well. Scott shared that in his community some riders ride against traffic and wondered if scooter operators have the ability to slow scooters down when riders engage in this behavior. Foley responded that they do not have technology to discourage wrong-way riding but said education can address this behavior. Scooter riders were required to complete a safety quiz before unlocking scooters during last year’s scooter pilot. It’s unclear if this quiz will be implemented through the new ordinance.

Alderman Harry Osterman (48th) shared concerns about scooters in “high density” areas and areas with a large number of seniors. Osterman stated his ward sees a large number of people biking on the sidewalk and “mowing” seniors down along Sheridan Road. Osterman stated he does not trust scooter companies to deploy sidewalk geofencing but he does trust CDOT.

Alderman Carrie Austin, a previous opponent of scooters (who was indicted this summer for allegedly accepting bribes and lying to FBI agents), asked whether scooter companies could ensure a high number of scooters near libraries and trails within her ward. Bird's Roland stated that his company likes to deploy scooters in places where they will be heavily used and libraries are one of those places. 

In the end, with one dissenting vote by Ald. Moore, the committee approved the ordinance to launch the  permanent citywide scooter sharing program, so there's only one more hurdle to clear tomorrow. You can watch a replay of the committee meeting on the city’s Vimeo channel.

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