Earlier this week, dockless-scooter/e-bike company Lime announced plans to return to Indianapolis — after a July showdown that ended in the company shutting down service due to concerns in the Indianapolis City Council over regulation of the app-based service.
If you haven’t been following, Bird (a smart-mobility competitor) and Lime issued hundreds of electric scooters to the streets of downtown Indy over the course of two weeks in June. Due to complaints from residents, concerns from local leaders, and questions related to regulation, the city decided to kick out the companies until regulatory devices were implemented.
So, you may be asking, “what are these things zipping around and why do we care?”
What Are These Dang Limes and Birds!?
Over the past several months, companies like Bird and Lime have been growing their presence in cities across the country and world. These companies offer app-based scooter rides that allow you to locate a scooter around your city, unlock it, and pay for it from the app, then get off at your destination, leaving the scooter in your wake.
The process is simple and cheap, and it provides a quick mobility option for those adverse to walking. With an influx of cities trying to find mobility solutions (and cheap!), municipalities come online to Bird and Lime each day. The trend has even caught on to college campuses, recently including Ohio State University.
Both companies say they are concerned with the state of mobility in cities and our reliance upon cars to get from point A to point B. This is a valid concern, considering that the dominant form of transportation in still the car in most American cities. Insistence upon automobile transit has led to a quality of life crisis, a deepening of social equity issues, and an exacerbated climate situation. Beside that, cars are expensive and, because most of our built environment caters to cars, not having one is essentially a death sentence for your job prospects. This is prohibitive for lifting the more than 40 million Americans out of poverty. Besides that, time spent in cars is by far one of our biggest killers of productivity. Finding transit solutions and creating new urban mobility options is a must for cities desiring social equity.
So, these companies offering scooters (and e-bikes) are great. They help solve the last-mile problem of transit systems, are fun and easy to use, and relatively inexpensive.
Then, what’s the issue?
Scooters and Regulation, or Lack Thereof.
In many instances, Bird and Lime have not consulted the cities in which they intend on servicing before dumping hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of scooters on their streets – this while making profit, creating general confusion, and riling NIMBYs all before noon the next day.
You can’t just drop hundreds of scooters overnight on a city and not expect some push-back. Especially when the city is not in on the loot.
In Milwaukee, for example, Bird was forced to remove its presence in the city – this is pending a decision on how the company would operate there. The move followed a lawsuit filed against Bird over the scooters’ use by its citizens. Wisconsin is currently evaluating scooter use on its public roads, and until Milwaukee can get an okay from the state level, electric scooters = banned.
Santa Monica straight up banned both of them. And then all-other e-scooter companies! Then, the city announced they were sponsoring their own, civic, scooter company, (backed by Lyft – the ride hailing service!), and then, granted a vote to kick out Bird and Lime but allow another scooter company backed by Uber! The ride-hailing service! This had led Bird and Lime to ask locals to petition the city for a second-chance. Bird sent an email to customers practically begging for help ahead of today’s vote on the matter: Here’s the choice quote:
“Giving complete control of sustainable transportation alternatives to two ride-share corporations is like giving Exxon and BP Oil a monopoly on solar power.” – Bird email on Santa Monica scooter vote
Bird also found trouble in Somerville, Mass. – with the city blatantly stating it would impound the scooters until it gained permits to operate. The story of ban and regulate has been the same for many other cities, including Boston, San Diego, Memphis, Beverly Hills, Denver, etc.
This brings us to Indianapolis.
Lime’s Return Is a Huge Win for Indy.
When Indianapolis City-County Council decided to kick Bird and Lime to the curb, it brought an initial rush of criticism from local mobility nerds, including myself.
I am now on record as saying this was a fantastic, intelligent move by the city of Indianapolis.
Whereas Lime initially came to the city with 300 scooters, it now plans on adding 1,800 scooters, along with the possibility of electric, dockless e-bikes. This is massive for the city. And just in time for the advent of the Red Line and Indy’s (hopeful) transit renaissance. Shortly, the city says to expect a similar deal in place with Bird as well, with the specifics of the deal remaining under wraps until everything is settled.
Prefacing the return of scooters in Indy, on July 16, Indy City-County Council approved regulations, including a $15,000 fee for Lime’s annual operations plus a $1-per-scooter-per-day fee. Yesterday’s announcement means an annual expenditure of $672,000 for Lime, which would be a drop in the bucket of a start-up which is gaining hundreds of millions in venture capital.
Here’s the real kicker: according to the city, this money will be spent on improving existing and adding new bike lane infrastructure.
MORE BIKE LANES PLEASE.
Indy forcing these companies to operate service on the city’s terms means short-term investments in things like bike infrastructure will be provided for without dipping into the city coffers. Lime’s announcement Monday portends great news for the city not only in terms of its short-term mobility options, but in the city’s ability to take life’s limes and make lemonade.