In the field of transport, new technologies can capture the attention of the public and of politicians. This is the case with electric scooters. The city council has just passed an ordinance that would establish them throughout the city of Chicago. For the benefits of sustainability, we hope to see many loop trips shift from short car trips (which are concentrated there) to electric scooters. Scooters wouldn’t be the main traffic and safety issue in the loop – cars are.
We support the ordinance in general, as it expands the range of sustainable modes of transport and provides a new mobility option. However, a number of actions are needed to make Chicago’s electric scooter program more equitable and racially just, and many of those actions would not only maximize the racial equity and environmental impacts of scooters, but address also safety and equity in other modes of transport.
First, e-scooter policy makers and companies need to overcome obstacles to make e-scooters a more viable option in all communities and legislating on racial equity measures (e.g. fair use) responsibly would push them into this direction. E-scooter riders were disproportionately white, male, and well-off in the 2020 rider. Despite a 50 percent fleet allocation mandate in the equity priority zone, only 23 percent of trips originated from those zones. In fact, aircraft in the priority equity zone averaged 0.26 trips per day per aircraft, while outside these areas aircraft averaged 0.97 trips per day. Rather than letting profit motives drive the exclusion of black and brown communities, policymakers and businesses need to engage with communities to understand what would make scooters more viable, with solutions that could range from improvement of infrastructure to private property subsidies and beyond.
Second, in addition to racial equity measures, follow-up legislation should immediately and sustainably establish racial equity in the distribution requirements of electric scooters rather than leaving it to administrative discretion. The 2020 pilot required companies to place at least 50% of their devices in priority areas. Proximity to vehicles is necessary but not sufficient for racial equity, and should not be left to the discretion of changes of administration.
The existing dialogue and research identifies a number of factors that could inhibit the use of scooters and remove their potential. Recent research documents the inequitable and aggravating conditions that black and brown communities face that can hamper cycling: busier roads, fewer cycle lanes, and disproportionate citations of police bikes, all of which could also discourage the use of the scooter. Other Chicago-based research, both focus groups and quantitative research, shows that violence impedes mobility, especially by modes of transportation other than cars. Investing in redesigning streets, targeting black and brown neighborhoods, to be safe for cyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users and others, will boost scooter use. Investing in cultural programs, education, community economic development, as well as directly in projects directly related to the health and well-being of people address the root causes of violence and will make our communities safer , improve well-being and make scooters, such as walking, riding and cycling – more viable options.
The follow-up legislation is expected to direct two-thirds of scooter license fees to black and brown communities to partially fund holistic community investments, but more investment in the political spheres is also essential. And, most importantly, all of these processes must be conducted with meaningful black and brown leadership and genuine community engagement.
In summary, city council should take follow-up legislative action and think collectively boldly and holistically and use scooters – not to distract from pressing core issues, but as a mechanism to tackle them and engage deeper. in favor of security, racial equity, justice in mobility and sustainability.
Dr Kate Lowe is Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Olatunji Oboi Reed is President and CEO of Equiticity Racial Equity Movement.
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