Bird Rides, the California-based startup that provides electric scooters for rent in downtown Cincinnati, wants to add more of the vehicles to the urban basin, but there are a few kinks to work out before that can happen.
Bird Rides Inc. launched a fleet of dockless electronic scooters in Cincinnati on July 26, and they’ve since become almost ubiquitous downtown. Riders download the Bird app, scan a code on an available scooter and zip off. Scooters cost $1 to unlock and then 15 cents per minute to ride.
Bird launched with a fleet of scooters downtown without first consulting the city. Cincinnati came to a deal with the company on Aug. 8 to permit the scooters on the streets, but it imposed some rules: Bird was limited to 100 scooters and must sign an indemnity agreement with the city, meet minimum insurance requirements and provide a customer service contact phone number.
Since then, the city has agreed to allow additional scooters – up to 200 – but Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld told me he met with Bird officials on Aug. 27 and they want to add more. That addition is subject to city approval.
Bird did not answer a question about how many more scooters they want to add to Cincinnati, but a spokesperson did provide a statement:
Rider education is very important for Bird, and we are committed to partnering with all cities to ensure that the community, and its visitors, safely embrace our affordable, environmentally friendly transportation option. We strive to improve and enhance the well-being of our riders and communities through concrete action, including: restricting the maximum speed of the vehicles, requiring riders to upload a driver’s license and confirm they are 18 or older, providing an in-app tutorial on how to ride a Bird and how to park it, and posting clear safety instructions on each Bird.
Sittenfeld said the meeting between the city and Bird was a one-month check-in to see how things were going.
“To be blunt, I’m glad they’re here, I think they can be an exciting and useful piece of the transportation landscape, but there are some issues,” he said.
Number one among those is people riding the scooters on the sidewalk. Sittenfeld said Bird is aware of that and focused on the problem.
Three solutions were raised in that meeting, the first of which is raising awareness. Bird’s scooters specify that they are to be ridden in the streets and not on sidewalks, and users must sign an agreement acknowledging that before riding. Bird has its own ambassadors downtown to evangelize about the use of the scooters, but Sittenfeld said the city can work with Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI) ambassadors to let people know they shouldn’t be riding on the sidewalks.
If that doesn’t work, ticket them.
“I’ll be honest with you, chasing 25-year-olds on scooters in OTR isn’t the highest and best use of our officers, but a little enforcement can go a long way to show we’re serious,” Sittenfeld said.
Sittenfeld wants to see Bird create a tech-based initiative to hold people who ride scooters on the sidewalks accountable, too. He said he heard from a young woman who saw two co-workers hit by a Bird recently, and if the scooters are tracked by GPS, the company should be able to determine who was renting the scooter and riding it at the time of any accident.
That crash was believed to be the first collision injury involving scooters since the company landed in Cincinnati. One of the victims was sent to urgent care following the collision. It prompted Councilman David Mann to propose a motion holding Bird financially responsible to cover damages caused by riders of the motorized scooters.
The city has scheduled a full public update on e-scooters at the Major Projects & Smart Government Committee on Sept. 5.
If the city approves more scooters, it could stand to gain financially – Bird pays the city $1 per scooter per day to operate in Cincinnati, which is paid out quarterly to city coffers.