a lime scooter lies in a bed at night

BusinessDecember 7, 2019

The long night of the Lime

a lime scooter lies in a bed at night

Lime brought e-scooters to Auckland and changed the way we travel in less than a year. Now, the council is replacing it and Wave with three new contenders. Josie Adams goes to the Lime warehouse to say goodbye to the original scooters.

In a warehouse in Eden Terrace, almost a thousand Limes hibernate. More than 99% of Auckland’s Lime population has been brought in to sleep. A few stragglers linger, trapped behind private gates or imprisoned in concrete basements.

The Auckland Lime team were given four days to bring in these scooters, leaving the public with only Flamingo to tide them over until Beam, Neuron, and Jump take to the streets. Only a few hundred Flamingos are currently available. The removal of Lime and Wave scooters has decreased the city’s total e-scooter population to a fraction of what it was in the space of a week. “Nice stacking technique,” I said, pointing at the columns of Limes arranged like a Tron maze in the middle of the room. I’m told it’s a world-first stacking technique. They can fit 200 inside 13 square metres.

It’s hard to believe it’s been just over a year since the lean green scooting machines first turned up on city corners, leaning jauntily to the side and trilling loudly when jostled. In that year, both e-scooter brands and the public have been on a steep learning curve.

Over the past 13 months, Aucklanders have gone from seeing e-scooters as a novelty or a nuisance, to embracing them as part of the transport ecosystem. We lime – now a verb – to work, to the bus, and to the beach.

Even Taylor Swift got in on Auckland’s Limes. (* Not actually Taylor Swift)

Auckland Council knows e-scooters have changed the way we travel. It knows that the scooters aren’t just popular, they’re also good for the city: they’re part of the solution to car congestion in the CBD, they work for the city’s carbon neutral targets, and they facilitate the use of public transport.

Lime estimates that one in four of its scooter rides replaces a car journey, but the effect goes further than that; e-scooters enable users to get to public transport without a car, meaning for the average commuter using a Lime could save them a much longer car ride than the app shows.

Despite everything it’s pioneered, Lime hasn’t had its licence renewed by Auckland Council. The question everyone’s asking – including the company itself – is why?

It’s not because the scooters are less safe: the council told The Spinoff the machines themselves are fine, and stack up compared to the other brands.

It’s not because of injuries: although there were Lime accidents, ACC doesn’t differentiate between brands of e-scooter injury in the claims it processes. Lime accidents were reported more mostly because, for a long time, it was the only brand operating in Auckland.

It’s not because the company is foreign-owned: three of the issued licences are going to brands owned in the US and Singapore.

It’s not because there were too many scooters: up to now, 1875 were licensed to operate. With the four new licenses, there will be 3200 scooters across the city.

Council spokesperson Craig Hobbs was reluctant to explain the difference between the approved applications and two that weren’t approved due to it being unfair on competing brands. However, the news that Lime and Wave were withdrawing from the city focused around mitigation of “nuisance”.

“The biggest criticisms we’ve had have been scooters lying around on footpaths,” said Hobbs. “It’s a trip hazard, and it’s certainly a concern for the disabled community.” The application process for e-scooter licences in this round asked for this to be addressed.

“We asked, do they understand when they have an issue with a device, and how quickly can they get there to sort it out? How do they influence user behaviour so people aren’t riding [and parking] dangerously?”

Influencing user behaviour is at the top of every e-scooter brand’s to-do list. Much of Lime’s publicity has come from its First Ride scooter safety events, and its scooters automatically slow down when entering high traffic areas. Despite their best efforts, consumer behaviour is never totally predictable.

A man in Christchurch allegedly stole 50 scooters for undisclosed purposes, and a teenager in the same city threw one off a cliff. A Wellington man threw a Flamingo across a busy street this week, yelling about it being a hazard and making it more of one with his actions.

As of yesterday at lunchtime, the Lime warehouse was missing half a dozen of its scooters. The team were working late at night and early in the morning to ring alarms and get thieves to boot the scooters out – but some people just can’t bear to let go.

This is because although a few consumers sure are weird, most of them loved what Lime introduced them to. “I’m really going to miss you,” said one user via the Lime app’s feedback page. “As someone with a disability, Lime has allowed me to explore parts of the city I never could before. Thanks for the good times.”

Others gave feedback detailing how they took Limes to the train, to their interviews, and up the road to the shops. Of course, they can still do this when Neuron, Beam, and Jump turn up – but we’ve got a few scooter-sparse weeks ahead of us. 

Although the four brands had their licences issued on December 2, none are yet present on Auckland streets. It’s expected they’ll turn up toward the end of the month, leaving many Aucklanders with a traditional, petrol-fuelled journey to Christmas events.

Lime lives on in Hamilton, Dunedin, and Christchurch. It hopes to come back to Auckland in six months’ time with its new and improved scooters, which The Spinoff can confirm have great suspension and braking.

In the meantime, a thousand scooters will stay hibernating in a warehouse, waiting for the spring of council approval to break.

Limes lined up for a long sleep. Photo author’s own (she is a bad photographer).

“I was sad today when I opened a new account with the others,” an anonymous user told Lime. “You broke the ice into an amazing new market. I loved riding your scooters. I hope you’re able to press on somewhere you are more welcomed and not be bullied anymore. Cheers x.”

Keep going!