CINCINNATI — The city of Cincinnati extended the curfew on e-scooters to 9 p.m. earlier this week after months of working with Bird and Lime to implement new safety protocols to protect riders and those around them.

What You Need To Know

  • The city of Cincinnati moved its e-scooter curfew to 9 p.m.

  • Cincinnati put a 6 p.m. curfew on the operation of e-scooters in April after several safety concerns

  • Bird and Lime worked with the city to improve things ranging from limiting on-sidewalk riding to underage use 

  • Many of the safety improvements include in-app updates, including GPS and facial recognition technology

Upgrades include new facial recognition software to identify riders, enhanced GPS technology to keep scooters off sidewalks and the elimination of a payment method known to be used by underage riders.

John Brazina noted the progress made by Bird and Lime — the only two e-scooter companies to operate in Cincinnati — on Tuesday during a meeting of City Council’s Public Safety and Governance Committee.

Brazina, who leads the city's Department of Transportation and Engineering, plans to work with his team over the next two months to evaluate data from Bird and Lime. Based on the data, the city will decide on the next steps regarding the curfew.

“If the stats stay baseline, where they’re at today, then our plan is to move [the curfew] after 60 days back to 11 p.m.,” he said.

The hours change suspended a policy enacted by the city in late April that limited the operation of Lime and Bird scooters to 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. The curfew had been 11 p.m. since the start of the e-scooter program in 2018, but a series of complaints fielded by DOTE and the Cincinnati Police Department led to the time change.

Before limiting the curfew in April, the city administration cited complaints ranging from underage usage and riding on the sidewalk and not following traffic laws to parking them on the sidewalk. Despite the scooters being programmed to shut down after the existing 11 p.m. curfew, many were still in use after that time, per the city.

The city’s policy bans the riding of e-scooters on sidewalks. While a person can park a scooter on the sidewalk, they can’t leave them on the ground in a manner that blocks the flow of pedestrian traffic, per city law. The city requires a person to park the scooter upright and out of the way to ensure the sidewalk is accessible.

The e-scooters don’t really bother Kirsten Dockendorff, a longtime resident of Orchard Street in Over-the-Rhine, as long as people ride them correctly.

Dockendorff is sometimes “annoyed” by people who leave their scooter in the middle of the sidewalks just to “take up space” and “sit there all day.” But her biggest concern is how people plan to use them during evening hours.

Both Bird and Lime have plans to work with DOTE to develop a “well-organized” parking system, Lee Foley, a Lime representative, said during the committee presentation. There's also camera technology they're using to ensure scooters get parked correctly.

Dockendorff is worried the extended hours may lead to people “hitting the bars and then riding scooters.”

“I’ve definitely nearly been hit by one just stepping out of my building,” she said. “Residents shouldn’t feel like they need to look both ways before stepping outside their front door.”

Now, on Bird scooters, riders receive a prompt that they’re on a sidewalk. If they don’t leave the sidewalk, the vehicle will slow down before automatically stopping, a Bird representative said during the presentation. Lime has similar technology but hasn’t yet activated it. Right now, they send riders text notifications to get off the sidewalk.

There’s been “considerable improvement” in user habits through downtown since implementing the 6 p.m. curfew, according to Joe Rudemiller, 3CDC’s spokesperson.

“We will be interested to see what type of impact, if any, extending the hours will have on the urban core,” he added.

Other city concerns included the parking of scooters in the middle of the sidewalk and riding in unauthorized areas, like parking garages and parks. The city also cited the use of e-scooters in “criminal activities.”

Kelly Adamson, executive director of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, called e-scooters a potentially positive thing for the neighborhood. She noted the scooters offer an “affordable and easy way to make short trips in our urban core.” 

But they are only positive, she believes, if riders follow the rules. 

That's important, Adamson said, because otherwise they can become uncomfortable for people walking around. If a resident or visitor doesn’t feel safe, it then affects their overall experience in the neighborhood, she said.

Adamson, an OTR resident, wasn’t speaking on behalf of any specific businesses or community members. She was summarizing “conversations she’s had in passing.”

“If [e-scooters] cannot be ridden responsibly or rules and regulations aren’t proven to work, then they leave a negative impact on our small business district,” she said. “Therefore, such measures need to be taken such as continuing the limitation of hours, or considering reducing to one vendor, instead of allowing the current two to operate in Cincinnati.”

Jill Blom is glad to see the curfew expanded. She described e-scooters as a “fast, efficient way to get around and explore the city.”

Her only concern is safety. 

“They can be dangerous,” said Blom, who moved downtown about a year ago. She and her dog, Curly, have had several “close calls” while out walking, she said. She’s seen a few pedestrians almost hit as well.

She feels riding can be just as hazardous to riders, especially late at night. She’s also seen a few people on scooters wipe out mid-ride and there’s always fears about riding with speeding cars.

“I have done first aid for a few riders that took a tumble,” she said. “One of them ran headfirst into a pole on Seventh Street. Blood everywhere.”

When the city imposed the more restrictive curfew, it told Bird and Lime it would reassess the situation when the companies addressed all the complaints.

Since April, Lime had nearly 45,000 potential trips it couldn’t complete because of the curfew, Foley said. He said Lime averages about 2,000 trips per day in Cincinnati.

Over the past four months, the Bird and Lime have worked to address most of those problem areas, the council committee said Tuesday.

Bird disabled the ability of riders to pay with Cash App, a mobile payment service. Doing so decreased underage riders, Chris Stockwell, a Bird representative, said during the committee meeting. He shared stats indicating doing so has reduced “fraudulent riding” from 6% national to under about 1%, which cut down on the majority of underage riding.

People without credit cards or who are unbanked can still use Bird, Stockwell said. They just have to use traditional gift cards. 

Both scooter companies now have a discipline system to address riders breaking the rules. Depending on the type of offense, it can lead to a momentary fine of $5 to $25 or even a ban from using the scooters altogether, per the presentation.

Riding with or getting a scooter for someone under the age 18 earns the account holder an automatic ban, per the council presentation. Committing a crime on a scooter results in a ban as well. 

The companies plan to share information with each other to address known problem riders.

Most riders are using the correct way, Foley said, but it’s the “spoiled apples” among the 800,000 trips they need to correct. He feels the new tools let Lime do that.

“We’ve done enough education and now it’s time to actually implement consequences for those who continue to lean into the problems,” he added.

Residents can provide feedback on e-scooter use in Cincinnati on the DOTE website.