Electric scooters from Bird and Lime were part of a news conference outside City Hall on Monday, where Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. urged his fellow City Council members to approve a permanent e-scooter rental program. The ordinance establishing such a program was approved by a Council committee on Tuesday. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
The ordinance set for a City Council vote Thursday allows the city transportation department to issue up to three licenses to scooter-sharing companies. Each could deploy up to 2,000 scooters per day, from 5 a.m. to midnight.
Electric scooters will become a permanent part of Chicago’s transportation system — with “sidewalk detection” technology to protect pedestrians, under a two-year plan advanced Wednesday.
The City Council’s Transportation Committee shifted the electric scooter experiment from pilot to permanent after an hour-long discussion that included far fewer gripes about sidewalk clutter.
The only “no” vote was cast by South Side Ald. David Moore (17th), who demanded scooter parking.
“This docking station situation has not been addressed. You again are talking about having cables and locks and all that. They had some of that already. That’s not the issue here. It doesn’t eliminate the issues that we had,” said Moore, who tried and failed to delay Wednesday’s vote.
“If it’s something we want to have, we’ve got to put in docking stations.”
Moore was not appeased when told the ordinance crafted by the Chicago Department of Transportation and championed by Transportation Committee Chairman Howard Brookins (21st) authorizes CDOT to “explore docking stations” and “virtual corrals” along the public way — either at city or company expense. The department, however, is not mandated to do so.
“Let’s not be putting this on the taxpayers. I don’t want to hear that,” Moore said.
Ald. Sophia King (4th) said “it would be nice to be able to dock” electric scooters.
Even so, King told representatives from two scooter operators at the meeting — Bird and Lime — that “you guys have done a pretty good job in listening to our concerns.”
Bird and Lime participated in both earlier scooter pilot programs.
Though North Side Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) voted for the ordinance, he, too, was not satisfied when told licensed companies would be required to have some level of detection technology to prevent scooters from being operated on sidewalks and on “high-density streets” with a lot of high-rise buildings s and senior citizens.
“Candidly, I don’t trust them. And I don’t trust their ability to keep them off sidewalks. I’ll put my trust in the commissioner” of transportation, Osterman said.
“I have a hard time keeping bikes off of Sheridan Road, where I’ve got a lot of elderly folks who get run down. I don’t want to add to that chaos.”
Lyft scooters parked at a West Loop corner during an earlier pilot program. At the time, the scooters were not required to be locked to anything when not in use, leading to complaints about sidewalk clutter.
The ordinance teed up for a final vote at Thursday’s City Council meeting authorizes the transportation department to issue up to three licenses to scooter-sharing concessionaires, with each company free to deploy 2,000 scooters per day, from 5 a.m. to midnight.
Under the ordinance, those companies would use “lock-to” scooters, designed to be locked to something — a tree or a street sign, for example — between rentals, instead of just left in the middle of a sidewalk.
The two-year clock is likely to begin this spring. The Lakefront Trail would be off limits.
The scooter inventory could double — from 6,000 to 12,000 — but only after a “demonstrated demand” from riders, according CDOT Deputy Kevin O’Malley.
The requirement that scooters be “locked to” a tree, pole or bike rack was tested during Chicago’s second e-scooter pilot and has already resulted in a “drastic reduction” in missing scooters and sidewalk clutter, according to LeAaron Foley, director of government and community relations for Lime Chicago.
“Where we have ‘lock-to’ implemented — such as Chicago, San Francisco and now Washington D.C. — loss drastically reduces because you are now required to unlock the device using your app or your phone or text to unlock,” Foley said.
Bird’s Vaughn Roland said his company is testing technology to create “virtual corrals” for electric scooters.
“Individuals have to ensure that the scooters are placed in an area and they won’t work if they’re not in that area,” Roland said.
During Wednesday’s hour-long discussion, Foley and Roland described the “geo-fencing” software embedded in electric scooters.
“We can reduce the speed from, say from 15 miles-per-hour to 10 miles-per-hour based off of the geo-fencing maps that we receive from CDOT and upload into our app. [We can] make sure that riders can no longer enter into those zones or that they must only go a certain speed while they’re in that zone,” Foley said.
Roland added: “They slow down to a halt once they enter that zone that we’ve mapped out with our teams. All of our vehicles are equipped with brains that have the GPS and some other forms for sensors and technology that allows them to recognize where they are, slow down and come to a stop if you are, indeed, within that zone.”
West Side Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) was so enamored with the geo-fencing technology, he asked if it could someday be put to even better use.
“I have in my community sometimes folks that may ride the wrong way. Is there a possibility to slow ’em down when they’re riding the wrong way so they’re not dipping in and out of traffic … when they’re going down a one-way street the opposite way?” Scott said.
Scott was told that technology is not available, but that the companies would be “pounding in the messaging” about safe riding.