Cincinnati may be the first city to require third-party insurance for electric scooter companies

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

Cincinnati may be the first city in the country to require third-party liability insurance for electric scooter companies. Council passed an ordinance this week regulating companies like Lime and Bird, which have been in the city for three years.

Companies already have general liability insurance policies, which are also required in the new ordinance. Council member David Mann is concerned about accidents caused by reckless scooter drivers.

"I think that they're dangerous to pedestrians that are hit," Mann says. "And my concern is if a pedestrian's hit who doesn't have health insurance, who covers the cost of treatment?"

Mann wanted the scooter companies to have insurance for $25,000 dollars for bodily injury or death of one person in any one accident, which mirrors the policy for vehicles in Ohio. Representatives from both Lime and Bird told a council committee insurance companies don't offer this kind of plan, but they could make it work with a lower limit of $10,000.

"There's no other city that I'm aware of that requires third party liability insurance for e-scooter operations," says Sam Cooper, director of government partnerships for Bird. "So the lower limit is something we can work towards, but the $25,000 limit is not something that's feasible or a product that that we can have exist."

Phil Jones from Lime echoed that problem.

"No insurance company was willing to create the product at this stage, just because of the industry being as new as it is," Jones said. "And it's not something that they felt was warranted at this point in time."

In a letter to Mayor John Cranley the day before council's vote, a Bird executive said they could no longer operate in Cincinnati if the $25,000 limit were imposed.

"E-scooter riders or operator companies should not be required to purchase insurance coverage limits at the same rate as automobiles," wrote Clint Johnson, VP for legal, risk management, trust and safety. "Relative to cars, e-scooters have a max speed that is less than a bicycle, weigh a fraction of the amount, and are designed for only one passenger."

A version of the ordinance with the $25,000 limit was first up for a council vote Wednesday; it failed on a 4-4 vote (with Council Member Betsey Sundermann absent). The version with a $10,000 limit then passed 8-0.

The ordinance also requires companies to apply for a franchise license, pay an annual $2,500 fee, and a per-ride fee of 25 cents. The companies will have to provide regular reports on rides and accidents.

According to a city report released this week, a tiny fraction of scooter trips in Cincinnati so far have included an incident of some kind: 0.02% of all trips since 2018.

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