The report from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s mobility task force also recommends a pilot program this year for electric scooters, and an increase in the state gas tax. The city is struggling with falling transit ridership.
(TNS) — The next Chicago mayor should have a chief mobility officer to handle issues like ride-share regulation and self-driving cars, as technology continues to change how we get around, according to a new report.
The report from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s mobility task force also recommends a pilot program this year for electric scooters, and an increase in the state gas tax.
“Look, somebody’s got to pay for this,” said former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who chaired the task force. “Transportation is not free.”
The Emanuel administration formed the task force back in September. Its 20 members include academics, government officials and members of the private sector.
The group developed guidelines to manage a multi-modal transportation system, with old technology like CTA buses interacting with new ways to travel like Uber and Lyft. Among the goals of the task force was a system that is better for the environment, reduces dependence on single-occupant vehicle trips and makes the city easier to live in.
The task force came up with 50 separate recommendations, covering concerns such as accessibility, congestion and the drop in public transit use.
For example, the task force proposed that the city try an electric scooter pilot this year, within a defined area instead of all over the city. Scooter speed would be capped at 15 mph, to help prevent some of the injuries seen in other cities. Chicago would collect information on how scooter rental companies manage sidewalk clutter, and how scooters could affect other transportation choices, like transit, the report said.
Scooters have been a source of contention in other cities because of concerns that they can litter sidewalks and pose a safety hazard to riders and pedestrians.
Emanuel said in an interview that the next mayor needs to learn from other cities what works and what doesn’t. He suggested that scooters could be integrated into the bike share system, and there should be someplace for scooters to be docked.
“People are just dumping it as if the sidewalk is their bedroom, and that’s not appropriate,” Emanuel said of the scooter programs in other cities.
The city also must modify its laws to allow for scooters and electric bikes in bike lanes and clarify where they should not be used, like on sidewalks, the report said.
The task force also proposed a uniform requirement for data from all ride-share companies — such as information about where passengers are picked up and dropped off — which would help the city figure out how ride-share is affecting traffic. The ride-share industry has exploded in the city, from 2 million monthly trips in 2015 to 9 million in 2018, and has been blamed both for increased congestion downtown and lower use of transit, the report said.
The report suggested that the city could adjust its fee structure to encourage high-capacity, less-polluting trips. This could mean lower fees for pooled-ride share trips over individual trips, or dropping lease payments for bike-share.
Another proposal is that individual ride-share drivers could get tax credits for going into lower-income neighborhoods, instead of having that credit go to the company.
The report also suggested creating a pilot to find the best way to handle curb management for short-time users like cabs and delivery trucks; expanding Ventra to include more modes of transportation; and creating more bus rapid transit. The CTA could aim for an all-electric bus fleet by 2040, the report said.
“The next mayor and the new City Council will really be the ones to act upon these recommendations,” said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, who was on the task force. “I think the report points us in the right direction and I hope the next mayor considers it.”
Emanuel said the next mayor “would be smart” to adopt the recommendations, and that he is leaving the city’s transportation system in better shape than it was when he found it. He pointed to more than $8 billion in projects on the CTA, 115 miles of protected bike lanes and other achievements.
The candidates for mayor, former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, have not yet received copies of the report, according to the mayor’s office. Both have agreed in the past with some of the ideas in the report, such as expanding bus rapid transit.
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