Friday, June 21, 2019

The Problems With Chicago's E-Scooter Pilot Program

“Public transportation” has traditionally consisted of buses, subways and light rail systems. Just as every other aspect of modern life has been affected by technological advancements with smart phones and apps, access to transportation options has expanded. New types of “alternative transportation” allows for the rental of different types of vehicles. What began with rental bicycles that could only be accessed from a fixed dock has expanded into other forms of bicycle share programs (bikeshare) that do not utilize a dock and also the emergence of electric assist bikes (e-bikes) and now standing electric scooters (e-scooters). 

Standing Electric Scooters

Standing electric scooters (e-scooters) have seen explosive growth. The companies Bird and Lime were earlier entrants into the marketplace and the phrase “a Bird” is often used as a general term for an e-scooter. Bird and Spin use the same Xiaomi Mi Electric Scooter for their fleets. E-scooters are not only dockless but due to a size differential to a bicycle they can be more easily moved. And they are relatively quick with speeds of approximately 15 miles per hour which is five times the average walking speed of three miles per hour. 

By design, electric scooter rentals allow anyone to rent a scooter, ride the two-wheeled vehicle for a short trip and then leave it wherever the renter decides to leave it. There are no docks for electric scooters. Just about anyone can rent one of the vehicles. There is absolutely zero screening or training for riders. There is also no direct supervision as to how the vehicles are ridden. This leads to a wide array of skill and experience levels on rented bicycles and e-scooters in Chicago's streets and bike lanes.

E-scooters are available for rental in Chicago without any test, any skills screening, and absent any interpersonal interaction before the renter takes it out onto the roadways. The entire transaction happens independently and digitally. The attorneys at Keating Law Offices are concerned that there may be a lack of accountability for injuries from e-scooters. Emerging research has shown that the risk for injuries and death due to the use of these rental vehicles is substantial.

Chicago's Rules for E-Scooters

The City of Chicago claims that this is just a pilot program for e-scooters. You can find the details on the City of Chicago's Pilot Scooter Program here. Here are the general rules for the program: 

  • Scooters will be removed each night after hours of operations (5am to 10pm) by the vendors. There are no details about what will be done in extreme weather conditions or if the scooters will be inspected during the hours of operation. 
  • The pilot will run from June 15 to October 15, 2019.
  • The scooters will only be available in the pilot area and are not allowed downtown. The scooters are purportedly "geofenced" meaning they will stop working if taken outside the area.
  • Scooters are not allowed on Chicago's sidewalks. They are only allowed on streets and bike paths within the pilot area.
  • Scooters must be parked "upright with a minimum of 6 feet clearance between the scooter and all public way obstructions." This appears to mean that the scooters should not be left in the way of traffic. 
  • Scooters cannot be parked "within 10 feet of street corners or intersections, or along building facades or block fire hydrants, bus stops, loading zones of building access points."
  • Each scooter is equipped with warning bells and front and rear lights.
  • Mayor's Office of People with Disabilities (MOPD) will be working with other City departments to monitor the impact of the scooter program on the disability community.
The City of Chicago also wants the public to take a role in policing the e-scooters. The website states that "If you find any scooters not properly parked, blocking the public way, contact the vendor directly. Vendor contact information is found on each scooter.  Vendors are required to remedy any scooter not properly parked within two (2) hours, 24 hours per day, seven (7) days a week." However, there is no information as to how or when any action will be taken to ensure that the e-scooters are in fact remedied within two hours. 
10 Vendors Selected To Participate In Pilot Program


E-Scooters Can Be Dangerous

While most Americans learned to ride a bicycle at some point in their life, the experience of riding an e-scooter is entirely new to many riders. The e-scooter is also operated amongst traffic and on roadways not necessarily designed for the use of the two-wheeled device. This puts not only the rider of the scooter at risk, but also other persons on the roadways and pedestrians.

A standing electric scooter poses many similar risks of injury as those bicyclists face. A 2019 Journal of theAmerican Medical Association (JAMA) article analyzed the medical records of 249 patients involved in standing electric scooter at two urban emergency rooms in Southern California between September 1, 2017 and August 31, 2018. Just as with bicycles, there are specific injury patterns:

  • The riders’ heads were the most often injured body part with 40.2% reporting a head injury. This was consistent with only 4.4% of the riders documented as wearing a helmet.
  • Fractures accounted for nearly a third of the injuries with 31.7% of riders suffering a break.
  • Other injuries such as contusions, sprains and lacerations independent of a fracture or head injury accounted for 27.7% of the documented injuries.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) participated in a study with Austin, Texas to look into the risks of injury for riding an e-scooter. The Austin study found that 58% of the e-scooters riders suffered an injury. The study also found that of those injured 1 in 5 (20%) needed a hospitalization. The study found that of those injured 45% suffered a head injury, 27% an upper extremity fracture, and 12% a lower extremity fracture. The majority (52%) of e-scooter injury incidents occurred in the street, 29% involved first-time riders, 18% involved motor vehicles. Fewer than 1% of e-scooter riders interviewed reported helmet use. The CDC found that based on 130 confirmed injury incidents, the e-scooter related injury incidence rate was 14.3 injured riders per 100,000 3e-scooter trips.

Chicago, Illinois Personal Injury Attorneys

Keating Law Offices founder and principal attorney Mike Keating has been at the forefront of advocating for safety from e-scooter companies. Mike was invited by the American Association for Justice to speak to the attendees of the 2019 AAJ Winter Convention in Miami. Mike's subject was Bike Share and the emerging threats posed by E-Scooters. The speech was entitled "Looking Beyond Automobiles: Bicycles and Electric Scooters." Mike also objected to the City of Chicago's plans to allow e-scooters in bike lanes and predicted that this was to allow for-profit companies to rent e-scooters on Chicago's streets. It is the mission of Keating Law Offices to help protect Chicagoans and to prevent companies from placing profits over people. 

The attorneys at Keating Law Offices are available for free legal consultations with anyone who has been injured while riding an e-scooter or as a result of the use of an e-scooter. All consultations are without any obligation and are 100% confidential. The firm can be reached at 312-239-6787 with operators available around the clock outside of normal business hours. You can also email the firm at