A rainy weekend didn’t stop Chicagoans from taking more than 11,000 rides on newly rentable dockless scooters, according to the city agency overseeing the program.
The city’s dockless scooter pilot program kicked off Saturday morning, and it allows 2,500 dockless scooters to operate in a zone overlapping portions of the near Northwest, Southwest and West sides. Ten companies operate scooters for the pilot, which runs through October.
Rentals are managed and purchased via smartphone-enabled apps. Riders leave dockless scooters wherever they want and send a photo to the carrier to prove they’ve parked it correctly — meaning it’s upright and out of the public way.
Chicago transportation officials hope the scooter program tempts more drivers off the road and onto bike lanes instead. The scooters are available to rent for 15 cents per minute. They reach a max speed close to 15 miles per hour.
Officials have said the scooters will help provide micro-transit options in areas where a walk to the train could discourage residents from using public transportation.
Wicker Park resident Alyssa Sweet took a scooter Monday morning to pick up scones for co-workers. It was her second ride within three days.
“I woke up, probably like everyone, Saturday morning to see the invasion of the scooters,” she said as she parked her scooter and paused her ride outside Wicker’s Park’s Scone City. “I brought this [tote bag] so I could put the scones it. They might get a little messed up, but that’s okay. It’s worth it. I feel a little bit like a kid again riding on it.”
Transportation blogger John Greenfield said there’s already a Twitter page dedicated to documenting the program’s hiccups.
“Chicago scooter fails [@ChicagoFails] has some pretty funny photos of scooters hanging from trees and two young women trying to ride one scooter at the same time,” he said.
But jokes aside, there are serious safety concerns that come with largely helmetless riders zooming through streets at 15 miles an hour.
A recent study shows the e-scooter program in Austin, Texas, has proved to be dangerous, with nearly 200 scooter-related bone fractures, head traumas and other injuries reported in a three-month period.
Chicago city officials wrote in a statement Monday that safety remains a priority.
“As the four-month pilot program continues, we're exploring all options for improvement based on resident feedback and concerns,” wrote Isaac Reichman, spokesperson for Chicago Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. “We will continue to build on our comprehensive education campaign to promote safe riding, encourage helmet use and ensure proper parking and riding procedures."
Chicago’s health department is monitoring injury reports from local hospitals.
Some of those hospitals, including John H. Stroger and Norwegian American, said Monday they have seen no scooter-related injuries so far.
Mariah Woelfel is a producer at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.