E-Scooters are back in Chicago for 2020 but will they stay?

E-Scooters are back in Chicago for 2020 but will they stay?
Photo: Chicago Tribune

Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) today released the results of the City’s first-ever electric scooter pilot program

Chicago joined the ranks of many other cities last summer offering its first ever pilot program for e-scooters.

Last year’s pilot project went from June 15, 2019 to October 15, 2019. Ten companies were issued permits for e-scooters by the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP).

The results: 

  • Of the riders that took part in four-month scooter pilot in 2019, 86% want to see them return.
  • Others, the non-users, would rather they go away with only 21% willing to see them return.

The complaints were many from sidewalk clutter, unsafe riding—particularly on sidewalks—parked scooters obstructing the public way, riding outside the boundaries and even complaints of the scooters being discarded in the river causing city expense to retrieve them.

The Future

So why has the city decided to invite the scooters back for another go-around?

Here’s what they say: “ Based on the results of this evaluation, the City will recommend a second pilot in 2020 to build on last year’s successes, implement lessons learned and test new solutions with a goal of identifying ways to expand access to safe, reliable and equitable mobility options for Chicago residents.”

In legalese, the new report says “Access to safe, accessible and reliable transportation is one of the City’s top priorities because it expands equity and strengthens our residents’ quality of life. While the e-scooter program holds promise, it warrants additional review to determine how we hold vendors accountable, keep Chicagoans safe and improve citywide mobility,” said Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “While the initial pilot revealed mixed results, my team will continue to bring community members and all stakeholders to the table to identify improved guidelines and gauge if the scooter program is a viable long-term solution.”

The 2019 Pilot Program

 Focused specifically on neighborhoods on the city’s northwest and west sides, last year’s e-Scooter Pilot Program launched from June 15, 2019 to Oct. 15, 2019. Ten companies were issued Emerging Business Permits through BACP to operate 250 e-scooters each, and during the timeframe, over 800,000 e-scooter trips were reported by the participating companies. The service area enabled the City to evaluate the impact of e-scooters in a diverse demographic and geographical area with variations in access to transit and other forms of mobility. 

 “The 2019 scooter program is an example of how a thoughtfully designed and carefully managed pilot can be used to effectively evaluate a new and innovative industry,” said BACP Commissioner Rosa Escareno. “We learned a great deal from this pilot, including that there is significant demand for scooters as a transportation option. We look forward to a second pilot in 2020 that focuses on equity, parking solutions and safety.”

The Findings

 While the initial evaluation found that e-scooter technology provides transportation benefits, the pilot also demonstrated a number of different challenges associated with the program that need to be more closely studied, including sidewalk clutter, equity and company compliance. As such, the City is recommending a second pilot to address these challenges and further test the benefits of this project in other community landscapes. This second pilot is necessary to determine proper regulations for this emerging and evolving business activity that balance the mobility goals of the City with the need for safe and responsible regulations.

The follow-up

 Following the completion of the 2019 pilot, the City worked with community groups and stakeholders to conduct a wide-reaching and holistic evaluation based on detailed ridership data, injury reports from Chicago hospitals and feedback from residents. Key findings from the evaluation include:

  • The 821,615 trips reported during the pilot indicated it was a popular mode choice for some residents and visitors.
  • E-scooters were used most frequently during the evening rush period on weekdays and between 3 and 4 PM on weekends.
  • 77% of rides started or ended in the eastern half of the pilot area, where prolific transportation options already exist.  This result indicates that more work needs to be done to understand how e-scooters could help supplement transportation in communities with limited access to other modes of transportation.
  • Evidence of e-scooters connecting riders to transit, Divvy and reducing ride-hail trips is inconclusive. While e-scooter ridership was concentrated in West Loop and along the Blue Line, it is unclear if e-scooters supplemented transit ridership or reduced car trips. Very low percentages of survey respondents said they rode CTA bus or rail more often, while 34% of online survey respondents indicated they used e-scooters to go to or from public transit.
  • Over the duration of the pilot, there was a significant decrease in ridership; the last week of the pilot saw trip volumes that were half of the number of rides as during the first week.  In addition, many trips were short and started and ended in the same location—evidence many riders were just trying out e-scooters for the first time.
  • 59% of survey respondents answered that shared e-scooter companies should continue operating in Chicago. However, sentiments differed between non-riders and riders of scooters: only 21% of non-riders supported continuing the scooter program, compared to 84% of riders.
  • 192 injuries related to scooters were reported by Chicago Hospitals during the pilot period. However, improved data collection and analysis are needed in the future to draw conclusions on the injury rates of this new mode. A future pilot will continue to emphasize the importance of safety while riding e-scooters.

The 2020 Pilot Program

Extensive community and stakeholder input will remain a hallmark of the e-scooter program as the City contemplates the scope for an expanded pilot, anticipated for summer of 2020. Upcoming meetings will engage transportation advocates, representatives from the disability community, business groups, community organizations and numerous other stakeholders to determine the scope, timing and location of the second e-scooter pilot. Full trip data will also be made public on the Chicago Data Portal to support the independent analysis of the scooter program.  

 “While the City’s initial scooter pilot proves that additional research is certainly necessary, we received feedback from local residents about seeing the program extended in Chicago,” said Transportation Committee Chair and 21stWard Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr. “As we work to enhance accessible and affordable transit options serving every ward, I support the conducting a second e-scooter pilot so that we can determine how this technology can promote equity and mobility options for commuters, residents, visitors and residents, particularly in areas with lower density and lack of transit options.” 

More

The Mayor’s Office, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection are committed to engaging all stakeholders in the development of future e-scooter policies and programs. To read the full evaluation, please visit www.chicago.gov/scooters.

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