Is scooter sharing backlash a cautionary tale for Chicago? Cleveland ordered them removed. Los Angeles set them on fire.
By Elvia Malagon
Aug 17, 2018 | 9:45 AM
As other cities grapple with the backlash over rented electric scooters hitting the streets, sidewalks and some other spots, officials in Chicago are trying to hammer out regulations for companies interested in renting out the stand-and-ride devices.
At least one alderman, Proco “Joe” Moreno, whose 1st Ward includes Logan Square, Wicker Park and Avondale, supports scooter-sharing companies launching a test-run in Chicago, but not until the city hashes out the regulations for the program, he said. An ordinance could be voted on as soon as this fall, he said.
California-based Lime, among a handful of companies behind scooter-sharing programs — similar to bike-sharing programs — has been doing test runs of its rental program at some of Chicago’s festivals this summer. But Moreno said he called the company after spotting what he believes was someone riding one of the scooters on a city street; he said the scooters were supposed to operate only within the footprint of the events.
“It’s disturbing that Lime looks to be operating already,” Moreno said. “I don’t think that’s a long-term gain for them.”
Becky Carroll, a spokeswoman for Lime, said in an email that their app includes a map of the festival area and that users are alerted to ride the scooters within the boundaries of the event. However, riders were leaving the scooters outside the festival perimeters, which prompted Lime to create a designated area within a festival where users turn in the scooters at the end of the ride, she wrote. At festivals, riders will now pick up the scooters directly from a Lime worker.
“Out of respect for the City’s desire to craft a regulatory framework to govern the use of scooters, Lime has partnered with neighborhood organizations to offer limited deployment at community festivals and aldermanic events,” Carroll said in the email. “Lime is focused on equitably introducing the scooters throughout all parts of the City in response to requests from residents and local non-profits.”
The city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection says there is no specific license or permit that allows dockless electric scooter rental businesses to operate in Chicago. In a statement, the agency warned that it was “unlawful” to store scooters on sidewalks and to use the devices on bike lanes or sidewalks.
Scooter-sharing is just the latest offering in the tech world’s sharing economy — behind similar bike and car programs. But the dockless systems for scooters (and before that bikes) have raised concerns from residents and officials in other cities that they may litter sidewalks and streets. That’s because users locate scooters with the aid of a phone app and then drop them off wherever it’s convenient for them, rather than at a fixed station or some other point.
You could say the scooters have created a buzz — not necessarily the good kind — in select cities. In Cleveland, city officials ordered Bird, another dockless scooter-sharing company, to remove its equipment, citing safety concerns and a lack of city permits that would allow the scooters to be parked on the sidewalk, The Plain Dealer newspaper reported.
But in cities like Los Angeles, scooters have been set on fire, tossed off balconies and even dumped into the ocean — a backlash that is a melange of anger over so many tech companies popping up in Southern California and anger that they’re clogging up public spaces, according to news reports. That has resulted in cities in California limiting or outright banning the scooter-sharing services, the Los Angeles Times reported.
While the scooters have been billed as affordable and environmentally friendly transportation options, in California some complained to the Times about collisions or near-collisions with scooter riders on bike paths and streets.
Lime has been setting up shop at a variety of summer events in Chicago, including the Bud Billiken Parade, Retro on Roscoe and Fiesta del Sol. As many as a dozen or so electric scooters have been available at those gatherings, Carroll said. At the end of the event, Lime workers take the scooters back to the warehouse for charging.
Lime and a couple of other companies are part of a pilot program in Chicago for dockless bike-sharing. The city-owned Divvy program is required to have docking stations.
The city has talked to other scooter-sharing companies about a potential test run in Chicago, Moreno said.
Asked whether Lime’s scooters already being used on city streets without regulations would hurt the company’s chances of operating in Chicago, Moreno said, “It definitely doesn’t help. I’ll tell you that.”
Officials with Bird, another California-based company with an electric scooter-sharing program, also has been in touch with city officials, the company said in a statement. The company had a demo of its scooters at the Wicker Park Fest last month and seemed optimistic about scooter-sharing in the city.
“We hope to get Birds out on the roads in Chicago in 2018, and are working within the city’s regulatory structure to do so,” the company said in a written statement.
Moreno said an ordinance that spells out the rules and regulations for scooter operations may help avoid the backlash seen in other cities. After that, a pilot program could be considered, he said.
Kyle Whitehead, a spokesman for the Active Transportation Alliance, said the organization would specifically like to see a maximum speed limit of 15 mph for scooters, which is about how fast someone can go on a bike, and a ban on sidewalk use, particularly in dense areas like the Loop or areas people with disabilities access to get around.
He also said the city should consider whether scooters will be allowed on paths like The 606 or the Lakefront Trail.
“That’s something that the Park District needs to do some more work on and analysis on the potential impact,” Whitehead said.
To use Lime’s and Bird’s scooters, there’s an initial $1 fee and then 15 cents for each additional minute of usage. The scooters self-lock through the app at the end of a trip.