CHARLOTTESVILLE — Lime, which has operated internet and app-powered electric scooters in Charlottesville for a year, will stop operations and remove its fleet from the city in 2020, citing costs of recently imposed regulations on e-scooters and e-bicycles.
The City Council recently approved regulations on the devices that limit the number of scooters a company can deploy in the area and put restrictions on where scooters can be operated and where they can be parked.
Those rules proved a bridge too far for ride-hailing, according to the company.
“We love Charlottesville and we loved serving Charlottesville,” said Robert Gardner, of Lime. “It was working well for us, but the reason we’re leaving in 2020 is due to regulation changes.”
The new regulations include limits and requirements on the number of vehicles providers can operate, which are set by City Manager Tarron Richardson.
City spokesman Brian Wheeler said Richardson set a limit of 350 total scooters in the city with an unlimited number of electric-powered bicycles. Providers would be required to field 100 e-scooters and 50 e-bikes.
Charlottesville established a pilot program in November 2018 to determine if the city would allow the ride-hailing service.
Under those initial regulations, the city didn’t require bikes in all circumstances. Companies were capped at 100 scooters, but could add more by also providing up to 50 bikes.
However, Charlottesville, as well as Albemarle County, had to quickly enact regulations for the devices after the General Assembly passed a law requiring jurisdictions to enact ordinance before Jan. 1 or lose regulation authority.
The city’s pilot program ended in December and companies had to reapply to continue operations.
Lime operated 150 electric scooters during last year’s pilot program, but the new regulations approved by the council would require the company to field a minimum of 100 scooters and 50 e-bikes. If Lime wanted to increase scooters from that count, it would also need to add additional bike.
Lime started in the city with 100 scooters and 40 bikes. The bikes were removed over the summer around the time that California-based Bird withdrew its 100 scooters.
But operating the bicycles is not cost effective for Lime, since, according to the company, they are frequent targets for vandalism and having recurring mechanical issues.
“It would reduce the number of [Lime] e-scooters from 150 to 100, unless you added another 50 e-bikes, which are not cost-effective due to vandalism and other maintenance issues,” Gardner said. “We find that the bicycles are often vandalized. People can remove and take the bicycle seat, wheels and other parts and it really isn’t cost effective to have them in the fleet.”
Wheeler said that the city is pushing the bike requirement because the University of Virginia is ending its UBike rental program in May.
“One of the goals is to ensure that there are still bikes available for rental,” he said.
Geo-fencing requirements that would limit speeds and access to certain areas such as the Downtown Mall and UVA and require riders to park scooters in specified places, perhaps a distance from their destinations, also played a role in Lime’s decision.
Lime officials cited a loss of ridership in areas with restrictions and the cost of software implementation of geofencing as issues.
“While Lime absolutely is happy to work with our partners in government to geofence areas when there is a legitimate concern about our product, often times we find that there are alternative solutions, like signage for instance, can work as good or better than the “tech” option,” Gardner said.
The e-scooter and bicycles, also known as “dockless micro-mobility devices” by those who operate and regulate them, allow riders pay a fee to check out the scooters and bikes through an app on their phone and then leave them for the next person to pick up.
Lime and competitor Bird brought 100 scooters each to the city at the start of 2019 for the pilot project, plus Lime brought 40 e-bikes.
Bird pulled out of the area in June, about the same time that the council voted to extend the pilot program through the end of the year. Lime removed its bikes citing maintenance issues, but kept the scooters.
VeoRide, a competitor, joined in November with 150 scooters and 50 bicycles. Wheeler said the company will remain in the city under the pilot program regulations.
From November 2018 to October 2019, 30,000 users made more than 200,000 trips for a total of 200,000 miles, according to the city.
The city plans to use money from the permitting program, which is expected to total $72,000 for 2019, to hire a staff member to monitor compliance.