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electric scooters on sidewalk

Electric scooters are prohibited on city sidewalks but City Council members argue “sidewalk riding” continues in neighborhoods across the city.

Pat Nabong

E-scooters could be rented in the wee hours under revised ordinance

Members of a City Council committee raised concerns about the safety of electric scooters before endorsing an ordinance allowing an expansion of scooter-sharing programs in Chicago.

The amended ordinance passed Wednesday by the Committee on License and Consumer Protection allows riders to use the scooters between midnight and 5 a.m. — which company officials hope will offer more commuting options for those working overnight hours.

Currently, electric scooters can be rented from sharing services only from 5 a.m. to midnight. Officials with Lime and Spin, the only companies operating in Chicago outside downtown, expect this time change to increase ridership. The ordinance, however, does not require any increase in the number of devices the firms make available to rent.

The ordinance will also adjust licensing fees, switching from a per-scooter formula to a flat $250,000 for a two-year license issued every other June, starting this year. Firms also will start paying a service fee based on the amount of scooters rented. Officials estimate the changes could bring the city $3 million to $3.2 million over the next two years, compared to about $2.8 million under the old system.

And though Lime and Spin are for now the only e-scooter companies operating outside downtown, the revised ordinance lifts a cap on the number of firms that could be licensed, so others could apply. However, firms applying for a license must, among other requirements, provide at least 2,000 scooters and “must have deployed a fleet of scooters in a city within the United States with a population over 1 million for a minimum of 12 months,” which could limit potential applicants.

E-scooters from Divvy, which is part of Lyft, are available to rent downtown through a contract with the Chicago Department of Transportation and are not affected by the proposed licensing changes, a city official told the committee. While all committee members backed the changes, they also pressed officials about the general safety of e-scooter programs.

E-scooters are prohibited on city sidewalks but members said violators remain a problem in neighborhoods citywide.

Electric scooters were introduced in Chicago in two pilot programs in 2019 and 2020 and became a permanent fixture in 2021. Ridership has boomed over the years with Lime reporting more than 1 million rides in 2023. The company attributed that growth partly to equity discounts offered on the South and West sides.

electric scooter

Chicago has allowed different scooter companies to bring in their rentals for people to use on the streets.

Manuel Martinez

The Chicago Department of Transportation requires e-scooter companies to keep their devices off sidewalks. Lime and Spin officials said they have systems to monitor users and crack down on violators. Penalties escalate, with users kicked off the platform if continuous sidewalk violations are detected.

“I don’t have a problem with these devices when they’re used properly and when they’re used in the right places on our right-of-way but on a daily basis, every single day, we’re seeing near misses on our sidewalks downtown,” Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said in committee Wednesday.

“This cannot remain a hazard to pedestrians and I think the companies, all of them — including Divvy/Lyft — need to take a harder look at this technology and I want to see fees and fines that are assessed fairly but aggressively.”

A Spin official told the committee Wednesday the firm’s analysis indicates sidewalk riding has decreased 25% in the past year.

According to a city transportation department analysis, e-scooter-related accidents have dropped over the past two years.

In the pilot programs, about 28 out of 100,000 rides resulted in injuries and a visit to the emergency room, assistant transportation commissioner Sean Wiedel told the committee.

Under the current program, about 14 injuries occur per 100,000 trips, according to Wiedel.

Ald. David Moore (17th) argued despite the decline, the number of injuries reported remained “somewhat alarming.”

Chicago has no helmet requirement, and e-scooter company officials argued a helmet mandate can lead to the adverse effect of over-policing. Both Spin and Lime distribute free helmets and offer scooter training classes, though when pressed Wednesday, neither company could provide attendance numbers for those programs.

A Spin official said the real way to increase scooter safety is by improving infrastructure — which, Council members noted, takes time.

Meanwhile, Spin officials said they are happy to work with the Council to address specific problem areas, possibly limiting the speed of scooters on blocks where constituents report dangerous riding.

• During Wednesday’s meeting, the committee also passed an ordinance aimed at increasing consumer protections for pedicab riders. The ordinance would increase fees for pedicab drivers who obscure their licensing or tags, which they are required to display.

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