City of Chicago Releases E-Scooter Pilot Evaluation

E-scooters—and their critics—have taken cities by storm, and Chicago has been no exception. For four months in 2019, the City of Chicago allowed 10 companies to operate 2,500 scooters around town. The goal? Observe the benefits and pitfalls of scooters in order to provide the City with real data on how (or whether) to run a permanent scooter program.

Photo by Uche Chilaka on Unsplash

UPDATE: The City of Chicago took another step forward in providing access to affordable, clean transportation options by announcing the launch of its 2020 e-scooter pilot program, which will run for four months from mid-August to mid-December. Building off the learnings of last year’s pilot program, which took place from June to October 2019, the city has made some promising new changes that will increase access to this emerging technology.

The 2020 pilot will include 10,000 e-scooters – four times as many as last year – and expand the geographic footprint to nearly the entire city, with a few notable exceptions like the Lakefront Trail, Bloomingdale Trail (The 606), and downtown Central Business District. To ensure the scooters remain available in areas where transportation options aren’t as robust, the city will require companies to ensure at least 50 percent of their scooters remain within an “Equity Priority Area” that spans the Far South to the Far Northwest sides of the city

Chicago will also try out a few new safety requirements as part of this year’s pilot, including a requirement that all scooters be locked to a fixed object at the end of a ride, and for all passengers to pass a safety quiz before taking a ride. These changes will hopefully create a more enjoyable, livable city for everyone by keeping sidewalks more navigable for pedestrians and people with wheelchairs.

The results of the 2020 pilot will help determine if e-scooters can seamlessly be integrated long-term into the transportation ecosystem of the city. While the verdict is still out, one thing is clear: the city is right to continue testing e-scooters as a low-carbon transportation option that gives all residents more choice, improves air quality, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

This blog was co-authored with Mary Nicol, Climate Advisor to the City of Chicago.

E-scooters—and their critics—have taken cities by storm, and Chicago has been no exception. For four months in 2019, the City of Chicago allowed 10 companies to operate 2,500 scooters around town. The goal? Observe the benefits and pitfalls of scooters in order to provide the City with real data on how (or whether) to run a permanent scooter program.

The City of Chicago has officially released its E-Scooter Pilot Evaluation, which gives a detailed evaluation of the four-month pilot program the city began in June of 2019. Unlike other cities that adopt e-scooters as an additional method of carbon-free commuting, the City of Chicago went the extra mile in ensuring safety and equity for residents when adopting climate-conscious policies.

The 98-page evaluation, which focuses on safety, reliability, equity, and enforcement of policies outlined in the pilot, analyzes over 400,000 rides from ten companies as well as the impact the scooters had on the city. There are a number of steps necessary before the City could implement a permanent scooter program, but the success of the pilot leaves many optimistic that scooters could help fill the gap for equitable and sustainable transportation options.

Safety was among the major concerns for the City when implementing and evaluating the success of the pilot program. Before the program began in June, the City met with various community leaders, disability rights advocates, transportation groups and other stakeholders to ensure the scooter pilot would enhance mobility for residents. The City’s extensive regulations and preparedness for issues with the scooters ultimately contributed to the low number of incident reports and injuries over the 800,000 rides taken during the pilot. The evaluation also provides additional recommendations to ensure the safety of both riders and non-riders.

Following the conclusion of the pilot program, the City also conducted a month-long survey with riders and non-riders to investigate community support. Overall, there was strong support of the pilot with 86 percent of riders saying they would like to see the pilot expanded compared to 21 percent of non-riders.

The analysis also revealed nearly half of the scooter rides started or ended near public transit with the survey confirming 34 percent of riders used the scooters to connect to public transit. This is great news for a city that is consistently looking for new methods to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. A scooter program may be exactly what the Chicagoans needs to provide another low-cost alternative to driving.

The City focused on ensuring equity during the pilot, including through regulations for balancing scooter availability during priority times. Overall, the evaluation shows company compliance, but there’s more to be done to ensure equitable rebalancing, especially if the program is expanded to other neighborhoods in the city with limited transportation options.

truly carbon neutral transportation option?

In the four-month pilot period, the e-scooters eliminated approximately 300,000 miles of vehicle travel, equivalent to approximately 116 tons of CO2. One caveat, however, is that the mode shift caused by e-scooters away from private car or ride-hailing trips may be overstated. The report also indicated that e-scooters are not a completely carbon-neutral method of transportation. Aside from the increased TNP ridership, a study from North Carolina State University revealed that each scooter contributes to about 50 to 200g of CO2 per mile. Put simply, during the pilot, Chicago scooters generated 50 to 60 tons of CO2—nearly half of the carbon emissions they eliminated. While scooter emissions are very clearly lower than car emissions, it is unclear if sooters are the best means of transportation when considering the city’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Chicago is one of 25 cities selected to participate in the American Cities Climate Challenge, an effort to resource cities to take strong action to reduce pollution that contributes to climate change and impacts public health. As part of the challenge, Chicago has pledged to take bold action to reduce emissions from its transportation and building sectors. Working with other cities, both in the Climate Challenge and around the world, Chicago has explored approaches to increase access to low-carbon transportation options that give residents more choice, improve air quality, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In releasing this evaluation, the City of Chicago has set the gold standard for e-scooter pilot programs by making it clear that while innovation is important, cities have the responsibility to research whether or not every choice is the right choice for its residents. The American Cities Climate Challenge city has continuously made strides to improve transportation reliability with the adoption of a ride-hail tax ordinance to reduce congestion and the implementation of the scooter pilot program.The City is also working to increase the number of Divvy bikes on the South and West Sides of Chicago and increase the number of bus priority zones in high traffic transit areas. This evaluation also shows the City is working hard to support cleaner transportation options and promoting a more livable, less car-dependent city.

Ultimately, the City recommends a second pilot program in the summer of 2020 to fully investigate the program using the existing recommendations and data. The second pilot could be expanded to parts of the city that weren’t in the first pilot and include more scooters as well. All this to say, if you didn’t have a chance to ride a scooter during the first pilot program, you might see them coming back to Chicago sooner rather than later.


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