CITY HALL — A test of electric-powered scooters is set to hit the city’s West Side next month, opening the doors for eager tech companies like Lyft, Uber and Lime seeking to expand their footprint, officials announced Wednesday.
The Electric Shared Scooter Pilot Program is scheduled to last four months, beginning June 15 and ending Oct. 15. It will include at least 2,500 or as many as 3,500 scooters in the pilot area, divided evenly among vendors who apply for and received permission from officials.
The announcement comes after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations between the city and e-Scooter companies, which have been popping up, and sometimes quickly leaving, other cities across the nation.
The pilot zone is 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.
“This geography, and particularly the priority areas, were selected for the opportunity to pilot scooters in a variety of community types,” city Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareño said in a statement.
“We want to support innovation and new emerging industries — this pilot program will allow the city and its residents to better understand how electric shared scooters impact the city. We have engaged with advocates, community groups, business groups and elected officials within the pilot area and look forward to working closely with residents to evaluate the program.”
Active Transportation Alliance Executive Director Ron Burke said his organization encouraged the city to take extra care to incentivize proper parking in congested areas “like Randolph Street in the West Loop and Milwaukee Avenue through Wicker Park. In addition, we have urged the city to repurpose parking and travel lanes to bike/scooter lanes in the pilot’s areas busiest corridors to help limit sidewalk riding and encourage efficient travel.”
Regardless, the organization is “pleased with a pilot area on the West Side that includes many diverse communities with a range of development patterns and mobility needs,” Burkle said.
The mayor’s transportation task force recommended the city launch a “modest” scooter sharing program in March, taking care to craft regulations that prevent them from cluttering the city’s sidewalks and bicycle lanes.
A month later, aldermen approved an exclusive nine-year contract to allow Lyft to operate the city’s Divvy bicycle-sharing system and rejected a proposal from Uber to offer dockless bicycles and scooters. They approved some scooter regulations during that same meeting.
Scooter drivers are prohibited from riding on sidewalks and can go no faster than 15 miles per hour, according to the new rules.
Scooters must be parked upright; away from street corners, bus stops, and buildings; and with a minimum six-foot clearance on the sidewalk. Approved parking locations include designated public bike racks and corrals, covered bike parking shelters, unused Chicago parking meters and street signs, according to the rules.
Operators must also demonstrate the capacity to move improperly parked scooters within two hours and take scooters off the street between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. every day. Scooter firms must also provide access for people who do not have credit or debit cards, and for people who do not have smart phones.
A spokesperson for Lime said it planned to apply for the pilot program.
“We appreciate the city moving forward with a pilot program and look forward to submitting our application to demonstrate the value Lime can offer Chicago in providing a more affordable, equitable transportation solution that helps get people out of cars,” according to the statement.
Companies that apply to operate in Chicago must also be able to “geo-fence so that its scooters cannot be operated outside of the pilot area, or other areas as the commissioner may define at a later date, including the ability to decelerate and ultimately stop within a quarter of a mile a scooter that is being operated from inside the pilot area to outside of the pilot area.”
Operators will have to turn over real-time and continuous data on operations, ridership and safety to the city. Permit application fees are $250, plus a $120-per-scooter administrative fee. After the pilot concludes, city staff will evaluate the “impact and success of the pilot, including ridership data, before making any determination regarding the long-term suitability of e-scooters within the city.”
The deadline for companies to apply for the permit is Tuesday.