Securing City of Chicago support for e-scooters

The Challenge
In mid-2019, the City of Chicago planned a pilot program to test whether e-scooters were a viable transportation option. The City set some of the most restrictive rules for e-scooter operations in the country, including a strict boundary for operating the scooters primarily on the city’s south and west sides in “priority zones.” To complicate matters, the City approved 10 e-scooter operators to participate in the pilot, making for an incredibly competitive market.

Established by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the final week of his last term, the pilot was not warmly welcomed by incoming Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Without the new mayor’s support, the e-scooter share pilot program’s viability was in question before it even began. Similarly, the Chicago public and the media remained dubious at best about e-scooters, having seen disastrous launches in other markets, such as Los Angeles, where images of e-scooters set on fire went viral.

E-scooter company Lime hired Culloton + Bauer Luce to influence the City’s new administration to maintain its pilot program and eventually make the program permanent while positioning the company as a responsible, standout provider in a crowded, competitive field.

Our Approach
CBL devised a three-pronged communications plan to highlight Lime’s safe riding reputation and its compliance with overwhelming support for the city’s equity goals.

Safety: To break out Lime from the pack of e-scooter providers, CBL focused Lime’s launch day opportunity at the height of media interest to tout the company’s safety academy lessons and free helmet distribution. We also promoted safety events in every ward of the pilot zone in the program’s early weeks to encourage follow-through coverage on Lime’s safety record, and we promoted Lime’s free helmet distribution totals over the course of the pilot at key milestones.

Equity: To emphasize Lime’s commitment to the equity in access to e-scooters, CBL:

  • Heavily promoted partner events with the nonprofit My Block, My Hood, My City that provided scooters in “equity zone” neighborhoods
  • Released community impact reports and job creation numbers for key neighborhoods with transportation advocacy sites and African American and Hispanic media
  • Hosted joint events with key aldermen and secured hyper local media coverage

Third-Party Support: CBL garnered third-party support for Lime as a preferred operator and set groundwork for the pilot extension by:

  • Enlisting key alderman, equity groups and community organizers to signal support for its program via op-eds and letters to City Hall
  • Releasing poll results and traffic data demonstrating rider/community support for pilot and that scooters were being used as first- and last-mile transportation modes in transportation deserts

Proven Results
The execution of the plan resulted in over 80 media placements, including the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and POLITICO Illinois, and urban planning outlets like CURBED and Streetsblog.

At the end of the pilot, the city announced it would bring scooters back in spring 2020, and public support for scooters grew over 7% from before launch to after the pilot’s completion. Majority support, including majority support from minority communities, allowed city leaders to pledge to continue piloting the program with a permanent program on the near horizon.