They’ve been popping out all over the West Side over the past three months. They are lined up on the streets, sometimes in rows, and, every once in a while, you can see people riding them.
On June 15, the Chicago Department of Transportation launched the electric scooter rideshare pilot program. Ten companies — including Lyft, which also operates the Divvy bike share program — got the licenses to put out scooters that residents can rent using their smartphones. The pilot includes all of the West Side and much of the Northwest Side, with neighborhoods that don’t have many Divvy docking stations like Austin and West Garfield Park receiving special priority.
As part of the pilot, the vendors have to hold community events where residents get a chance to learn how to ride e-scooters safely and legally. Lime, a San Francisco based company that operates scooter-sharing, bike-sharing and car-sharing programs throughout the world, held several events in Austin, West Garfield Park and most recently West Humboldt Park. Most people who interviewed said that they were glad that they had the opportunity to experience the program and that they were more inclined to rent e-scooters in the future.
According to a 2018 study by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute, the presence of e-scooters on the South and West Sides improves transportation options, giving residents more transportation options beyond cars. The study also found that e-scooters are more cost-effective than cars for trips over short distances.
But e-scooters haven’t been without controversy. Even before the pilot got underway, there were concerns about riders not following traffic rules and e-scooters potentially causing injuries.
According to Streetsblog Chicago, the Illinois Department of Public Health indicated that, as of July 29, it received reports of 129 emergency room visits for scooter-related injuries since the pilot launched. Within this newspaper’s coverage area, Stroger Hospital reported receiving four emergency room visits, with one patient requiring surgery, while Mt. Sinai Hospital reported three ER visits.
And there is also the matter of the vendors themselves following the rules. On July 12, the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which oversees the pilot, announced that it issued a total of 14 citations to six vendors for, among other things, failure to limit the scooters’ speed to 15 miles per hour, failure to respond to customer concerns. Lime was among the three vendors not issued a citation.
Under the pilot program, the scooters can only be operated from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. The vendors have to take them off the street and store them overnight. While riders need a smartphone app and a credit or debit car to rent e-scooters, vendors are required to provide alternatives for people who don’t have either.
According to Lime’s press release, the company has so far held 12 First Ride Academy events throughout the West Side. Zerlina Smith, a former 29th ward aldermanic candidate who handles community events for the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, said that Lime took part in several of her organization’s “Light the Night” events. She explained that the events are designed to bring positive experiences to the community.
“Lime is working with the same population we are,” Smith said. “As residents come to Light the Night events, they know they can ride scooters whenever they leave the block.”
Lime held its West Humboldt Park event on Aug. 7 at 1634 N. Pulaski Rd. The company partnered with the Business Technology Education Center, 3942 W. North Ave. As BTEC President Xavier Hernandez explained, his organization aims to “build community through STEM education,” offering classes in areas like 3D printing, coding, media production and food science.
Hernandez said that his organization partnered with Lime, giving them a place to store and recharge scooters overnight while giving the students a chance to study the science behind e-scooters. Hernandez noted with pride that one of their interns, Damani Lozano, developed a smartphone app that puts the apps of all 10 pilot program vendors in one place, significantly simplifying the registration and booking process.
Overall, around 20 people wound up trying the scooters during the Aug. 7 event. Cesar Cardona, Lime’s community expansion manager, explained that Lime scooters rent for $1 plus $0.15 for every mile it’s ridden. Like bikes, they must be ridden on (not the sidewalks) and helmets are strongly recommended, he said.
“Part of our mission is that there are a lot of people who haven’t tried our e-scooters yet, so we wanted to give them an opportunity to ride them,” Cardona said. “So, when they ride the scooters, they feel comfortable and they don’t get into an accident.”
Nicole Brown, of Austin, works as a peer support specialist at Rincon Family Services’ West Humboldt Park location, which is located within walking distance of the demonstration site. She is one of the several company employees who decided to take part.
“I was actually scared of trying,” Brown said. “But once you get the hang of it, it’s really fun.”
Daythan Delvalle, an instructor at BTEC, said that the scooter worked well for what it was.
“It was good,” he said. “It was fast. It was liberating and it was fun.”
Dino Lozano, Damani Lozano’s mother, got off of her scooter early.
“I felt good going forward, but I felt like turning was a little too much,” she said. “A third wheel on a scooter would be good.”
Later, she was persuaded to give it another go and said that she felt a little more comfortable.
Spin, another e-scooter vendor, is holding demonstrations on Aug. 14, 4:30 p,m., at the Hatchery, 135 N. Kedzie Ave., and on Aug. 20, 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., at 5820 W. Chicago Ave.