Transportation

Scooter Rental Company Lime Deploys in Spite of City Prohibition

Honolulu police have been confiscating the electric scooters, alleging the company is illegally using city property without authorization.

by Andrew Gomes, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / May 16, 2018
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(TNS —  A new two-wheeled shared transportation service scooted into Honolulu over the weekend, but almost as quickly police have been carting off the bright green vehicles propped up for rent on sidewalks.

California-based Lime dropped about 200 electric scooters onto sidewalks in the Ala Moana, Waikiki and Kakaako areas Saturday and said about 1,500 riders took a spin over the weekend by paying $1 plus 15 cents a minute.

Company officials said it was a good start to a pilot project that could lead to expansion and heightened competition for the nearly year-old shared-bike operator Biki.

“We had really, really great usage this weekend,” said Nima Daivari, Honolulu operations manager for the company formerly known as LimeBike.

However, the city Department of Transportation Services had warned Lime that its service represents an illegal use of city property without authorization.

As of 2 p.m. Monday, the city said, police officers had rounded up 81 Lime scooters, putting them out of commission.

“The city does not allow concessions of this sort on city property without proper authorization,” DTS said in a May 9 letter to advisory firm Kranz & Associates LLC representing Lime.

Lime executives responded in a letter Friday contending that DTS appears to be relying on city rules governing use of fixed city property available for lease or rent, and that no city code or ordinance exists that would prohibit Lime operations.

“We are eager to work with you and Mayor (Kirk) Caldwell to introduce this service, as we have done in cities like San Diego and Washington, D.C., as a compliment to the existing transportation options available to Honolulu,” the company wrote on the eve of its launch.

Lime also touted in an announcement Monday that it had “worked closely” with city leaders for support over the past several months, and included supportive statements from City Councilman Joey Manahan, the Council’s transportation committee chairman, and from Councilman Trevor Ozawa.

“Lime will bring increased access and mobility to both residents and visitors in Honolulu,” Manahan said in the statement. “I’m excited to see how scooters can improve mobility for our city.”

Ozawa said in an interview that he was surprised by the DTS and police reaction, calling it a move that appears to favor Biki, which was partially financed by the city.

“It seems a little harsh for the city to be impounding these (scooters) when transactions are conducted on our sidewalks every day,” he said, referring to cab rides, Uber, Lift, Pokemon Go and other things. “We can’t be picking the winners and losers of the public transportation revolution.”

Lime spokeswoman Mary Caroline Pruitt said Monday that the company looks forward to “working closely and collaboratively” with DTS as the company continues its pilot.

Lime and other companies renting scooters and bikes that can be parked anywhere without a rack or dock have clashed with officials in other cities over a variety of issues including permitting, riding and parking.

Last month the city attorney for San Francisco impounded 66 scooters and declared them a public nuisance while also ordering three companies, including Lime, to cease operating after just a few weeks because customers were illegally riding on sidewalks and without helmets, according to a story in The Mercury News.

Also in San Francisco, Lime and another company complained in January that the city denied them permits to compete in the dockless bike rental business after an exclusive permit was given to New York-based Jump Bikes, according to a story by public radio station KQED.

Other cities, including Seattle, Dallas and Phoenix, have been forced to contend with rental bikes cluttering up public places.

Lime, which was founded as a bikeshare company in January 2017, operates in about 60 cities and university campuses. About three months ago it entered the scooter business in San Diego.

In Honolulu, Biki started in June with help from a $1 million city grant. Biki has about 1,000 bikes between Chinatown and Diamond Head, and racks are on city streets and sidewalks. Lime touts its service as better than dock-based services like Biki because they don’t require public subsidies.

Lime scooters can be left anywhere propped up on their kickstand. The company instructs users to park on sidewalks outside of the pedestrian right of way — generally on the shoulder area of sidewalks where street signs, fire hydrants, utility poles and bike racks are located.

Rules for riding and parking the scooters, the company said, are exactly the same as for bicycles. However, some residents have raised questions about motorized scooters using bike lanes and streets.

Lime scooters can go 14.8 miles per hour and travel about 30 miles on a charge. A ride that far would cost $18 if there were no stops, though the company said the sweet spot for its users is around two or three miles and often begins or ends at a mass-transit stop.

The company said it collects scooters, which have GPS tracking, every night after 10 p.m. for charging and then returns them to sidewalks by 6 a.m.

©2018 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.