A fleet of 2,500 electric scooters is hitting the streets in Chicago this Saturday as part of a four-month pilot program.
Ten vendors will distribute 250 electric scooters each in a 50-square-mile area in west, northwest and southwest parts of the city. All vendors will provide upright scooters save for one — Wheels — which will offer 250 seated scooters.
The pilot zone will be bounded by Halsted Street and the Chicago River on the east, Irving Park Road on the north, the city limits and Harlem Avenue on the west, and the Chicago River on the south.
Scooters have been maligned across the country for cluttering sidewalks and leading to serious injuries. The American Journal of Otolaryngology says from 2008- 2017, there was an increase in facial and head injuries due to riding electric scooters.
Chicago officials say safety measures are built into the pilot program.
Scooters are limited to speeds of 15 mph, cannot be ridden on sidewalks and can only be operated from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Vendors are required to verify the age of riders, who must be at least 18 years old, or at least 16 years old with the consent of a parent.
Many scooter injuries in other cities have occurred during late hours, said Rosa Escareno, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which is overseeing the pilot program. She said that’s why Chicago has set a 10 p.m. curfew for scooters and also is requiring vendors to remove their scooters from sidewalks and streets.
“The city is requiring a $5 million general liability insurance” for vendors, Escareno added. “It ensures that the company takes any responsibility for actions that happen on the scooters.”
Escareno said the insurance amount is one of the highest in the nation.
One of the goals of the pilot program is to provide more transportation options for transit-strapped areas of Chicago.
“One of the things that is important for us to measure is equity across various neighborhoods, and ensuring that the neighborhoods that traditionally don’t have unique concepts, we want these scooters tested in those areas,” Escareno said.
The city has identified two “priority areas” within the pilot zone where vendors will have to place 50% of the scooters each day, she said. These areas include neighborhoods that have not seen significant resource investment by the city, including Austin, North Lawndale and Little Village.
The pilot was conceived in part by the New Transportation and Mobility Task Force formed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel last fall. Access Living, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, was one of the organizations represented on the task force.
Adam Ballard, a housing and transportation policy analyst at Access Living, said the pilot is the “best attempt yet that a city has done” to regulate scooters. But he has concerns about how the city will enforce keeping scooters off sidewalks and parking them properly.
Ballard said people with visual impairments as well as those with mobility aids such as wheelchairs or walkers could be negatively affected by the scooters.
He said the 15 mph speed limit is lower than it’s been in other cities, but “but it’s still pretty fast … you’re moving at 15 mph — you can still come up on someone pretty quickly.”
Vendors will provide real-time data on ridership, operations and safety to the city. That data will identify, for example, where scooters are located and the most common destinations for riders.
Each vendor will set its own price for the cost of riding the scooters, but Escareno said, generally, vendors may charge about $1 to unlock the device and 20-30 cents per minute. The companies will be required to provide cash options for users who don’t have a bank account or credit card.
The city plans to administer a user survey at the end of the program to gauge how it went. The program begins Saturday and runs through October 15.
Marley Arechiga is a news intern for WBEZ. Follow her @marleyarechiga.