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E-scooter companies propose fixing a myriad of problems to stay in Cincinnati

A Bird and a Lime scooter sit on a Downtown sidewalk, July 2019.
Bill Rinehart
A Bird and a Lime scooter sit on a Downtown sidewalk, July 2019.

Cincinnati officials are giving electric scooter companies the chance to implement better technology to curb the misdeeds of some riders — or else face consequences.

City employees say there's been an uptick of complaints about the e-scooters as pandemic restrictions have ended. Concerns range from underage riding, breaking the city's designated 6 p.m. curfew, and safety issues including riding on sidewalks and breaking traffic regulations.

Several council members say they appreciate or use the e-scooters, but something has to be done about the safety issues and complaints before confirming they'll sign renewed franchise agreements with the companies. Initial agreements were for six months and several extensions have been administered while final contracts are negotiated.

Signing Lime and Bird scooters to franchise agreements means the city would receive money from both companies, including a $5,000 one-time fee, fees of $1 per scooter per day, and a 20 cent per ride fee. The city estimates they'll get about $84,000 a year from these fees.

But first, city officials say they want to make sure the companies address complaints from the community and police.

"I think we have to build the teeth into the agreement [like] these are the dates that we're going to have the sidewalk technology; this is how we're going to prevent people from riding on sidewalks; how we're going to prevent them from parking it on sidewalks," Council Member Mark Jeffreys said. "That needs to be in our agreement."

He also said fines should be implemented if the e-scooter companies don't comply, something the Law Department said is within the city's legal right to issue.

Here's what representatives from Lime and Bird say they're doing about the problems:

Underage riders and ID verification

Representatives say Cincinnati is the first city in the Midwest to have ID scanning technology activated on e-scooters.

"So, now you're not only taking a picture of your front and back of your license, you're also taking a selfie to indicate that you are the person that is actually riding," said Vaughn Roland, Bird senior manager for government partnerships. So, that is a big trip locker … and we know that that will help deter underage individuals from writing,"

He added riders have to use a real ID card, not a medical card or an unofficial identification card.

Breaking curfew and geofencing

Roland says after the city implemented the 6 p.m. curfew, it created a "bug" in the geofencing system, meaning people could ride in restricted areas at times they weren't supposed to be riding.

"That bug was then fixed," Roland said. "Our operation team literally went in after 6 p.m. each day — [and] does this weekly — scan to ensure that there are no e-scooters being used after that allotted time."

He added that the manual check is in addition to the fixed software and ensures there are no riders after curfew.

When the curfew was previously at 11 p.m., he said riders were able to complete their trip before the e-scooter was turned off. But now, there's a hard stop time at 6 p.m. that should be functioning on all e-scooters.

Lime Senior Director of Government Relations Phil Jones said it implemented the curfew on their devices as soon as possible and have not experienced bugs in their system.

E-scooter parking

Jones said e-scooter parking regulations have already been implemented in Cleveland, Columbus and Grand Rapids, Mich., where there have been improvements with parking concerns.

"I think it's important to mention that we have been able to really solve some of these parking issues that have happened with our mandatory parking corrals, with virtual parking, with parking incentives both pre- and post-trip," Jones said.

Riding on sidewalks

Sidewalk detection technology uses street indexes to determine if an e-scooter is being ridden on the sidewalk. It's a feature already implemented in some cities and, according to e-scooter representatives, coming to Cincinnati.

"The vehicles that individuals are driving have a microchip inside of them that basically is a sensor fusion chip that speaks up to the geofences," Roland said. "Once you're starting to ride up on a sidewalk, it'll immediately start to de-throttle and then cut off, sending the rider a notification, both on the LCD screen and also audibly."

The technology is a partnership with Google and done in collaboration with city officials.

Lime has the same partnership with Google to use the technology.

Skepticism from police

Despite the comments from e-scooter representatives, Cincinnati Police Department Captain Doug Weisman says he doesn't think e-scooter companies can rise to the occasion and fix the problems.

"One thing I will say is I have really no confidence sitting here today that Bird or Lime, their technology, so to say, is reliable … I have talked to them personally for years about the curfew and also the geofencing which seems to never work," Weisman said, noting screenshots presented to the committee that show e-scooter riders past the 6 p.m. curfew. "And then when you go back to them they say it's on and then I still see people riding through areas that are supposed to be geofenced."

Crimes committed on e-scooters were also referenced during the meeting and city staff presented screenshots from a residence's security cameras that show a young person on a scooter kick in a screen door.

However, it's unclear how frequent crimes on e-scooters are in the city.

A city report released in December shows only 0.02% of all trips since 2018 have been involved in an "incident of some kind." A public records request issued to CPD for crimes or complaints involving e-scooters has not been fulfilled by publication.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.