A four-month pilot of electric scooters in America's third-largest city proved popular and, at times, problematic, according to a thorough, data-based evaluation released Wednesday.
The City of Chicago's E-Scooter Pilot Program saw 10 micromobility operators — Bird, Bolt, grüv, JUMP, Lime, Lyft, Sherpa, Spin, VeoRide and Wheels — drop 250 scooters each in a 50-square-mile geofenced location on the west and northwest side of the city from June 15 to Oct. 15, 2019. The rules were clear: Operators were to abide by a set of speed, placement, parking and data-sharing regulations outlined by the city ahead of the pilot, all with the objective of determining the viability of a permanent scooter-share program.
Yet headlines during the pilot period illustrated a not-so-perfect introduction to the micromobility craze in Chicago. At least 10 riders went to the hospital in the first week of the pilot, while young children took prohibited joyrides and many scooters were left blocking sidewalks.
Four months of ups and downs culminated in the city's 99-page evaluation of these and other issues, and how the city can go about solving them in the future. (Yes, the future: The city confirmed it will run a second e-scooter pilot in 2020.)
"While the initial pilot revealed mixed results, my team will continue to bring community members and all stakeholders to the table to identify improved guidelines and gauge if the scooter program is a viable long-term solution," said Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a statement.
To better highlight the impact of the pilot, Smart Cities Dive broke the evaluation down by the numbers and the policy recommendations presented to ensure the next program is equitable, accessible, safe and sustainable.
Smart Cities Dive pulled select data to summarize the impact of the scooter pilot. For more comprehensive data, visit the city's pilot evaluation report.
Chicago saw more than 820,000 scooter trips during the four-month pilot, however the number of trips analyzed was narrowed to 407,296 when data compliance and "lap" rides (trips activated just for a few minutes as riders took a quick test spin) were accounted for. The analyzed trips were taken most frequently during the evening rush hour on weekdays, and during the early afternoon on weekends.
The city pointed out that trips progressively declined over the course of the pilot, indicating many of the rides in June and July were due to piqued curiosity about the mobility option. The report notes that trip volumes in the last week of the pilot were about half of what they were in the first week.11% of riders didn't know the pilot rules
When asked about the rules of the pilot, "significant gaps in understanding remained," the report read, however riders were much more informed of rules than non-riders. Such rules included not riding scooters on the sidewalk, in Chicago Parks or on the 606, and all riders were to wear a helmet.72% of riders were white
In a month-long public online survey of both riders and non-riders (conducted between Sept. 24 and Oct. 27), 72% of riders identified as white, while 12% identified as Hispanic or Latinx, 7% identified as Asian and 6% identified as black. When breaking down gender and age, 65% of riders identified as male, while 79% of riders identified as ages 25-44.
Overall, the survey represented demographics that skewed high-income and more educated, indicating a need to reach more diversified riders in the next pilot.116 tons of CO2 were potentially reduced
Permitting electric scooters has been heralded as a way for cities to achieve climate goals, and the results were evident in Chicago. Based on the analyzed trips, the city estimated that scooters helped to eliminate 300,000 miles of vehicle travel, equating to approximately 116 tons of CO2.
The city did note, however, that scooter rides are not entirely carbon neutral. Research has shown that manufacturing and maintenance of scooters, as well as their distribution around a city, can generate carbon and have a reverse impact on climate goals, though such impact tends to be small in comparison to other forms of mobility.77% of trips started/ended in non-priority areas
When outlining the pilot, the city established two priority areas where scooter distribution was permitted to ensure equity and service to underserved communities.
Operators were required to distribute at least 25% of scooters to there priority areas, however pilot data showed 77% of trips started or ended in non-priority areas on the eastern side of the pilot area. The report noted that none of the 10 companies met their distribution requirement consistently, though the overall designation of priority areas did help underserved communities reach scooters.42% of riders decreased ride-hail use
Due to the availability of scooters, survey respondents reported significant reductions in other modes of transportation, including a 42% reduction in ride-hailing, 23% reduction in driving and 18% reduction in walking. While the city implied its encouraged by the reduction of passenger vehicles, it showed concern over the reduction of walking, noting that behavior shift can have an impact on public health.80.8% of scooters were properly parked
Of all rules outlined for the pilot, riders seemed to abide closely with parking rules. An analysis of 57 separate parking observations found 80.8% of scooters were properly parked on the sidewalk, while 18.4% were improperly parked on the sidewalk and 0.7% were left in the street.192 probable emergency room visits were reported
To help the city assess the impact of scooters on health and safety, the Chicago Department of Public Health asked hospital emergency departments to tag e-scooter use when filing health records for patients. During the pilot, emergency rooms saw 192 probable visits due to e-scooter injuries, an average of 1.6 injury incidents a day. Of the injuries reported, only three required admission to the hospital.
The city noted this injury data had limitations due to inconsistent reporting from riders and hospital emergency departments.
Despite some unfavorable findings in the report, the city is confident that adjustments can be made to optimize scooters as a mobility option in Chicago. To address the findings, the city suggested 19 policy recommendations for a future e-scooter program, including:
- Maintain the existence of priority areas
- Improve systems for unbanked users and people without smartphones
- Test technologies to better organize the sidewalk space.
- Require companies to track overall environmental footprint of e-scooters
- Consider slow down zones on trails and other high use corridors
- Require more education programs to aid in safety and perception concerns
- Encourage e-scooter companies to utilize communication technologies
- Limit number of e-scooter companies to reduce the burden of oversight
- Set higher standards for data quality and technology abilities
- Find a better solution to "dead" e-scooters