Electric scooters blocking sidewalk in Cincinnati.

The best thing about Cincinnati’s electric scooter rental program is that you can grab a scooter at Point A, ride it to Point B, and just leave it there. No need to bring it back, and no need either to put it into a dock. The sidewalk will do.

The worst thing about Cincinnati’s electric scooter rental program is that you can grab a scooter at Point A, ride it to Point B, and just leave it there. No need to bring it back, and no need either to put it into a dock. The sidewalk will do.

As Evanston actively considers having an electric scooter rental program here, lessons from other communities on what works and what doesn’t could help Evanston avoid problems which have plagued other places.

Take Cincinnati, for example, where I was a reporter for many years and returned for a Memorial Day weekend visit.

While the scooter rental program is incredibly popular, with the two-wheeled vehicles zipping around town, there have been so many negatives that the Queen City recently notified the two scooter franchisees that the whole program might just be scrapped.

Sidewalk scooter ridiing is illegal in Cincinnati but happens often.

According to a city email obtained by radio station WVXU, “the City Administration, in response to mounting e-scooter-program-associated issues, is considering the possibility of terminating the e-scooter program and banning the e-scooters from operating in the city.”

While it seems unlikely the popular program will indeed be ended, Cincinnati cut scooter program hours from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., as talks with franchisees Bird and Lime are ongoing to resolve the troubles.

Scooters in Cincinnati are supposed to be parked upright and not blocking pedestrian access on sidewalks.

Many of those troubles are obvious, illegal, and you can’t miss them. Riding on sidewalks. Riding after curfew. Underage riding. Leaving the scooters in a way that they block pedestrian traffic (“Intrusive Parking,” according to an email to Evanston Now from Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation and Engineering). And riding the wrong way on a one-way street.

Not only that, but “Riding while in support of, and engaged in Criminal Activity,” was also mentioned in Cincinnati’s email to Evanston Now.

Cara Pratt, Evanston’s director of sustainability and resilience, is working on bringing an e-scooter program here. Before taking the job in Evanston, Pratt worked in Racine, Wisconsin, and helped set up the e-scooter program there last summer.

Pratt tells Evanston Now that she met recently with representatives of Lyft, the company that has Evanston’s Divvy Bike franchise, and has “right of first refusal” on adding e-scooters, if Evanston leaders want such vehicles.

Pratt says Lyft suggested having a docked scooter program here, as opposed to the “dockless/leave it almost anywhere” system seen in Cincinnati and other places.

A Divvy bike docking station near Northwestern University in Evanston.

A docked program would be similar to Divvy Bike, where you pay for a certain amount of time, but must return the scooter to a permanent dock rather than leave it on the sidewalk.

While that may be less convenient for riders, it also minimizes “scooter clutter,” where unused two-wheeled vehicles get in the way of two-legged pedestrians.

Racine has a “dockless” program, but Pratt says the city there hired two people to move scooters that had been left in the wrong spots.

“We got calls from residents who didn’t want scooters parked in front of their houses,” Pratt says.

She says Racine was committed to “having an abundance of places” where leaving a scooter was OK, such as near light poles, as long as the scooters were not in the street.

Cincinnati’s dockless program allows scooters to be left on the sidewalk, but the vehicles are supposed to be parked upright, and out of pedestrian flow.

Both cities allow scooters on bike paths. Otherwise, they’re supposed to be ridden on the street.

Legal scooter usage (on street) in Cincinnati. Helmets are “highly recommended” but not highly utiilized.

A Racine lesson Evanston might look at is limiting the number of scooters, and even limiting the number of franchisees.

Racine, which has about the same-sized population as Evanston, has a 100-scooter cap for its pilot program with a single scooter firm (Bird).

Cincinnati, which has four times the population (300,000) allows a total of 800 scooters, 400 per franchisee. If you think the scooters are everywhere in downtown Cincinnati, you’re not far from wrong.

Scooters lined up neatly in Cincinnati and ready to be rented.

Cincinnati also requires the franchisees to collect the scooters after curfew, store them and then put them back out in the morning. The electric vehicles do have to be recharged, so some sort of collection is necessary, unless the scooters are left in docks that could be charger-equipped.

There are some technological features which can be added to scooters, and perhaps mandated by a city. One feature automatically stops the scooter from operating at a set time (such as curfew hour).

Another, called “geo-fencing,” can shut a scooter down if it enters a prohibited area, such as a sidewalk. And there are also ways to require proof of age in an app and credit/card-based rental system, to make sure users are over 18.

After Cincinnati tightened its scooter curfew, a represenative for Bird issued a media statement saying in part “Shared e-scooters are a critical, eco-friendly transportation alternative…”

The statement added that Bird has already activated an ID scan to verify age and said the company wants to work with the Cincinnati officials, hoping the “City will retract its decision to implement a curfew which penalizes … tens of thousands of responsible riders….”

In Evanston, Pratt says there will definitely be public input before the city decides whether to move forward with an e-scooter program, and if so, how it would operate.

Evanston has already asked Lyft for cost estimates for both a docked and dockless system.

“Lyft will do whatever we want them to do,” Pratt says.

Assuming all the questions are resolved, and the Evanston City Council signs off on an operating plan, Pratt says “it’s possible to have scooters by fall,” presumably in a pilot to iron out the bugs.

One thing that will always be difficult, whatever the system, is enforcement.

Cincinnati has a $100 fine for scooter ordinance violations.

But police priorities do not include chasing scooter-riding-millenials down the sidewalk.

According to Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation and Engineering, “We are not actively issuing tickets to e-Scooter riders.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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