City cracks down on Lime, temporarily removes scooters

Raga Justin

Dockless scooter enthusiasts may be seeing a little less green on the streets of Austin. 

The dockless scooter company Lime Bike, one of seven dockless scooter operators licensed by the city, was charged with over-supplying scooters in an area of downtown approximately bordered by MoPac, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Chicon Street and Oltorf Street. The company has been ordered to temporarily reduce its overall fleet by 20 percent, or 1,000 scooters, according to a memo directed to City Council. But the fleet reduction does not apply to specific areas of the city.

The memo, released Nov. 29, was written by Austin Transportation Director Robert Spillar. In it, Spillar cites five separate occasions between Nov. 14 and Nov. 20 where Lime Bike violated the city code by deploying more than their limit of 500 dockless mobility units in downtown Austin and “creating a safety issue.” The memo states Lime was using “as many as 624 units more than their authorized allowance.”

Austin transportation officials notified the company of the issue and warned Lime that continued violations would lead to the suspension of scooters, but Lime continued to deploy more scooters than allowed, according to the memo. 

The penalty will continue for 30 days, after which the Austin Transportation Department will evaluate whether Lime is in good standing with the City of Austin, according to the memo.

“If ATD finds that Lime is in good standing, Lime will be allowed to request the suspension of their units be lifted,” Spillar said in the memo. 

According to the memo, Lime is still authorized to operate 4,000 dockless mobility units around Austin. 

Austin’s six other dockless scooter operators were not fined, according to the memo. 

“This action is not anticipated to negatively impact users … there is sufficient supply to meet demand,” Spillar said. 

Marissa Monroy, public information and marketing manager for the Austin Transportation Department, said the company was expected to comply with public rules regarding dockless mobility that have been in place for a while. 

“This is the first time where we’ve penalized a company for this sort of violation,” Monroy said. “We have always had these rules in place … they have been there since we started licensing these operators. These weren’t new rules that they weren’t able to follow or anything like that.” Lime representatives declined to answer questions regarding the sanction but released a statement from Sam Sadle, director of strategic development at Lime. In the statement, Sadle said Austin is one of several cities with “caps” on deployed scooters.

“Austinites have embraced Lime scooters, riding over a million times since June,” Sadle said in the statement. “Due to extremely high demand from users, we had an unintentional over-deployment of scooters downtown. We have worked around the clock to fix it, and look forward to continuing to work with the City of Austin.”

Madeline Detelich, an environmental and water resources engineering graduate student, said she is a frequent Lime customer and does not believe the city’s crackdown was the most efficient solution as it takes away transportation options. 

“I just do not think its the smartest use of force, or necessarily the most forward-thinking response,” Detelich said. “It just feels like they’re not thinking about people who are being helped by these scooters.”