As coronavirus is changing the way Americans get around, Minneapolis and Chicago are bringing back e-scooters — with a focus on equity.
On July 16, the city of Minneapolis announced it had reached an agreement with scooter companies Lyft and Bird to re-allow e-scooters back on city streets. The agreement requires companies to follow enhanced cleaning protocols, distribute scooters in high-poverty neighborhoods and require scooters to be locked to poles or bike racks — a move that should combat claims of “scooter litter” by residents annoyed by improperly parked vehicles. A maximum of 2,500 scooters are allowed, so both vendors will be deploying up to 1,250 scooters in phases, and must make at least 750 scooters available in north, northeast and south Minneapolis, where poverty is more concentrated, Fox9 reports.
The city has also required companies to provide low-income pricing and options for those who don’t own a smartphone, according to the press release. The scooter program agreement will run through March 31, 2021.
If ridership in Minneapolis exceeds expectations, city officials could expand the program by an additional 1,000 scooters, tapping into Lime and Spin to meet the demand.
Following in Minneapolis’s footsteps, a similar program will begin in Chicago next month, reports WTTW. In the early weeks of August, the city will name three providers to deploy a combined 10,000 scooters in the second half of its pilot program.
LeAaron Foley, senior manager of government relations for Lime, told CBS that a key difference this time around is the expansion of where users can ride within the city.
“One of the biggest changes this time is that scooter rides can happen citywide – except along the lakefront, the 606 Trail, and the Central Business District downtown,” Foley told CBS. Previously, scooter rides were limited to a pilot area northwest, west, and southwest of downtown and were mainly used in wealthy and predominantly white neighborhoods along the West Loop. Now, riders can take scooters almost anywhere.
Separately, the Chicago Department of Transportation says the goal of the second pilot is to provide more equitable and balanced scooter distribution city-wide in a statement reported by NPR. Whereas in the previous pilot scooters were required to keep at least a quarter of their vehicles on the city’s West Side, now participating companies must dock at least half of their scooters on the city’s South and West sides, according to WTTW.
Scooter companies are to clean scooters each time a staff member comes in contact with one and encourage riders to wear gloves, though it will not be required. Selected companies by the city will set their own prices, though last year’s pilot priced rides at $1 plus 15 cents a minute. Scooters must be docked by 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., and are banned from the central business district. A final decision on vendors will be made in early August by the Chicago Department of Transportation, reports CBS.
As previously reported by Next City, early scooter programs were cited as the cause of many problems, one being that of scooter litter. In Minneapolis, residents complained about scooters being left on sidewalks. In Chicago, there were reports of scooters being dumped in water and even trees. Now, both cities are requiring scooters to be locked.
“Riders are now required to park their scooters at bike racks or sign posts,” Foley told CBS.
Similar rules will follow in Minneapolis, where scooters must be locked to public bike racks, municipal signposts, or left in designated scooter parking lots when not in use.
Blanca Laborde, a senior manager on Bird’s government partnerships team, told the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal that she expects to see an uptick in riders as microbility devices have become increasingly popular during the pandemic.
“Micro-mobility has built-in social distancing,” says Laborde.
Nicolette White is a class of 2020 Emma Bowen Foundation Fellow at Next City. Currently, White is completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism at Temple University. She is also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has previously interned for The Philadelphia Tribune and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism.