Politics & Government

Here's what Charlotte says it can do if Lime doesn't remove its scooters

City leaders worried about scooter safety

Two days after the city of Charlotte told Lime it had to stop its scooter-share program, the start-up asked its users Thursday to email city officials to lobby for the scooters.
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Two days after the city of Charlotte told Lime it had to stop its scooter-share program, the start-up asked its users Thursday to email city officials to lobby for the scooters.

The city of Charlotte says it can confiscate electric scooters left on the sidewalk if the start-up company Lime doesn't remove them.

Lime — formerly known as LikeBike — started a scooter-sharing service Tuesday in Charlotte. But the city sent the company a cease-and-desist letter, telling Lime it needed to stop the scooter program by Friday because it hadn't been approved by the city.

Lime has urged its users to email Mayor Vi Lyles and city council members urging them to let the scooters stay. One city council member said Lime users were "jamming" his email inbox.

But on Saturday, council member Tariq Bokhari tweeted that Lime sent a message to its Charlotte users that it would agree to follow the city processes. The message from Lime that Bokhari tweeted out said the company would halt its electric scooter operations while it worked with the city to “finalize the fine details. ... We look forward to serving you with more scooters in the coming days.”

Lime and three other companies have permission from the city to operate a bike-share program that's been in operation since November. The agreement does not pertain to scooters.

City Attorney Bob Hagemann said Lime is challenging the city on a few issues.

Hagemann said Lime has argued that its scooter program is protected under a 2002 state law that allows for the use of "personable assisted mobility devices" on city sidewalks.

Hagemann said the city believes the law refers to Segways, which were introduced a year earlier. He said the state law defines the mobility devices as being "self-balancing," which he believes is a clear reference to Segways.

He said Lime could, in theory, operate as a scooter rental business in which the customer rents and returns the scooter to a private business.

But the business model for Lime and other ride-share companies is that people rent scooters or bikes wherever they find them and can then leave them on the sidewalk when they are finished. Unlike the bikes, Lime has said it collects the scooters each night, and Hagemann has said the company has argued that it's not leaving them on sidewalks.

But Hagemann said the scooters will likely be left for some period of time on public property before the company collects them.

He said he doesn't know what the city will do if scooters are left on the sidewalk.

"I don’t know the strategy," he said. "I think we have legal right to confiscate them. I don't think we have the legal right to keep them or destroy them, but we can move the scooters to a storage facility."

The company said the scooters have been well received in the city, with nearly 1,000 scooter trips taken in two days. The company didn't say how many scooters it has deployed here, so it's impossible to know how many rides have been taken on each scooter.

Lime urged its users to email the city.

"Our initial deployment on private property with our local business partners is already proving a hit," Lime's email to its riders said. "Unfortunately, the City has threatened to shut the Lime service down in Charlotte. We need your help! The City needs to hear from you just how important dock-free smart mobility is. It will take less than a minute of your time and could make the difference between whether we have additional affordable, carbon-free transportation option in Charlotte or not."

On Facebook Thursday, Bokhari said the company was not telling people "the whole story." "Hey LimeBike, the next time you rally our city to send hundreds of template emails jamming up my city account to express support, why not tell them the whole story?" Bokhari wrote. "Like how you didn’t follow the pilot permit protocol and decided to ask for forgiveness rather than permission (like you did in several other cities and have been fined because of) I was, and still am supportive of getting your very cool scooters back on the streets. But safety is important and warrants a conversation. And one sided, poorly thought out tactics like this make me less willing to go out on a limb and partner when other companies are going through the right channels."

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs
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