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E-scooters to boost equitable, sustainable transportation in Chicago

Transportation made up 29% of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over half of which comes from passenger vehicles and commercial trucks.

The Illinois Center for Transportation and IDOT aim to reduce this percentage in their joint project called “Analyzing the Impacts of a Successful Diffusion of Shared E-Scooters and Other Micromobility Devices and Efficient Management Strategies for Successful Operations in Illinois.”

Abolfazl Mohammadian, the University of Illinois Chicago’s Department of Civil, Materials and Environmental Engineering professor and department head, led the project with IDOT’s Manager of Program Support Chuck Abraham.

Mohammadian and Abraham explored the launch of shared electric scooters in Chicago, one of several micromobility services designed to provide transportation over short distances.

E-scooters may provide additional benefits over other micromobility services, including greater mobility for people with physical limitations, the ability to connect to transit more quickly and more flexible pickup and drop-off locations.

“Empirical evidence shows that most car-based trips in the United States are short enough so that they can be alternatively performed using micromobility options, if the barriers that hinder switching from a mode of transportation as comfortable as private cars are resolved,” Mohammadian said.

The City of Chicago launched two pilot programs for e-scooters in 2019 and 2020.

Working with the Chicago Department of Transportation, the researchers sought to identify barriers that may impact how frequently people adopt the technology, as well as whether e-scooters could help create a more equitable transportation system.

Using state-of-the-art artificial intelligence techniques and advanced statistical analyses input from 2,400 users, they identified several equity groups within the population and used this data to understand their behaviors and preferences.

The equity groups included people from historically marginalized or disadvantaged communities, such as users who are black or living in Chicago’s equity priority area (a region identified as being underserved by transit), or people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged.

The equity groups generally reported proportionally more frequent e-scooter usage and interaction with mass transit.

They also reported having to travel longer distances more frequently to obtain an e-scooter, highlighting the need for regional planning agencies and micromobility operators to collaborate to ensure all users benefit equally from the technology.

Through the study, the researchers were able to take advantage of the new opportunity and provide IDOT planners as well as state policymakers with effective strategies to promote micromobility in Illinois.

“The strategies support development of an integrated transportation system, which potentially can condense the problems of vehicle emissions and traffic congestion,” said Mohammadian. “This study can also help shared micromobility operators to better understand users’ characteristics and then offer more effective and efficient services, especially for disadvantaged groups.”

Their efforts paid off, as the City of Chicago announced in April that e-scooters will join Chicago’s transportation system.

Four thousand e-scooters from Lime, Spin, Superpedestrian and Divvy started hitting Chicago’s streets in May — half of which are required to be located in the city’s equity priority area.