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Bird and Lime eyeing expansions into a combined 14 countries

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Scooter giants Bird and Lime are gearing up for a significant expansion into at least 14 countries across five continents, according to new job listings and recent hires.

The companies, both valued at US$2 billion, are set to go head-to-head in a number of major cities, including Santiago, New York, Warsaw, Bogotá and Toronto.

The spate of new hires come amid a regulatory push to allow scooters on the streets in Edmonton; Victoria; Kelowna, B.C.; and Windsor, Ont. The Logic has also learned that the Ontario government is holding a private consultation with key industry players this week to discuss making it easier for electric bikes and scooters to operate in Canada’s most populous province.

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Talking Point

Scooter giants Bird and Lime are seeking expansions into at least 14 countries across five continents, despite vandalism, low winter ridership and profitability concerns. In Canada, the cities Edmonton; Victoria; Kelowna, B.C.; and Windsor, Ont. have all taken steps to welcome scooters in recent weeks.

The expansion plans come during a stretch of bad news for scooter companies. Vandalism, low winter ridership numbers and profitability concerns have hampered the industry. In December 2018, Bird and Lime saw a 27 per cent decline in ridership. Nevertheless, both companies have been raising money. So far, Lime has raised US$867 million, and Bird has brought in US$718 million. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Lime was raising an additional US$400 million.

Bird and Lime expanded quickly throughout the U.S. in 2017 and 2018; currently operating in 73 and 109 cities across the country, respectively, according to their websites. Over the past few months, the companies have been racing to expand internationally. Lime operates in 34 cities outside the U.S. compared to Bird’s nine.

Lime is hoping to capitalize on that head start, with open or recently-closed job postings for managers or other senior staff in 21 new locations. Bird is hiring in fifteen.

Mackenzie Long, a Bird spokesperson, did not directly answer questions about which, if any, cities the company hopes to launch in, other than the ones it’s currently hiring for. All told, Bird operates in almost two-thirds of the cities Lime does: 91 compared to 142.

Lime is looking to solidify its dominance in Oceania, a region Bird hasn’t yet entered. The company is hiring an operations manager in Tauranga, New Zealand, and an operations manager in Adelaide, Australia; it already operates in three New Zealand municipalities and three Australian ones.

“We do not comment on the specifics relating to our expansion for competitive reasons,” wrote Lime in an emailed statement. “However, Lime is always looking to partner with cities that aim to reduce traffic congestions, combat climate change, and provide an alternative, micromobility service to the people.”

The two companies are set to compete directly in Europe, where Lime is hiring in six locations, which would bring it up to 27 in the continent. Bird is staffing up in Warsaw, which would be its eighth European city. The company has also added a number of staff in the Netherlands, with 24 new hires in the past 90 days, according to LinkedIn data.

The real competition, however, will be in Latin America, where neither company has much of a presence, and where both face stiff competition from local startups. Last week, The Information reported that Mexico City’s Grin and São Paulo’s Yellow had merged and raised US$150 million in new capital. The combined company, renamed Grow Mobility, is the third-largest globally, and will operate in Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Mexico and Brazil.

Lime is looking to expand to Montevideo and Bogotá in Latin America; it already operates in Monterrey, Puerto Nuevo, Santiago and Mexico City. Bird also operates in Mexico City, and is hiring general managers in São Paulo, Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Lima and Santiago.

The time gap between job posting and city launch can sometimes be months—that’s if it leads to scooters on the streets at all. In September 2018, The Financial Times reported that, in Asia, Bird was hiring in Mumbai, Bangkok, Singapore, Seoul and Hanoi; in Latin America, it had job postings up for Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Bogotá and Lima. Bird has only launched in one of those nine cities so far and five of the job postings are still open including the one in Mexico City, where Bird is now up and running.

A similar process may be underway in Montreal and Vancouver. In November 2018, The Logic reported that Lime had hired senior staff in Toronto and had job postings up in Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton. The company has now hired Mathiew Lobraico as a “new market launcher,” according to his LinkedIn profile; he previously spent five years in Montreal helping co-working startup Breather expand across Canada. Lime also hired Vaughn Wong—a Simon Fraser University graduate with experience working for B.C.-based mining and transportation companies—as operations manager for Vancouver.

B.C. law currently prohibits electric scooters from operating on public roads, but cities can individually apply for exemptions.

“While the City of Vancouver is yet to officially request an exemption from the Motor Vehicle Act to allow e-scooters on their roadways, other B.C. jurisdictions have made such requests,” said Jamie Weiss, a spokesperson for the transportation ministry. “This includes the City of Kelowna, which is exploring the use of the Okanagan Rail Trail for an e-scooter pilot.”

Kelowna isn’t the only municipality to explore regulatory changes. In Victoria, city staff proposed a bylaw permitting e-scooters; in Windsor, city council passed a motion requesting staff to study the introduction of e-bikes and e-scooters. And, city council went even further in Edmonton, instructing staff on January 17 to set up e-bike and e-scooter pilots by June.

For that to happen, Alberta would need to grant Edmonton an exemption similar to what Calgary received in 2018 to allow electric bikes to operate on its streets. John Archer, press secretary to the transportation minister, said the government hasn’t received a request from Edmonton or any other municipality for an e-scooter exemption, but that it supports “innovative transportation options” in its province.

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In addition to the public changes at the municipal level, Ontario is privately considering altering the law to allow scooters on public roads. The Logic obtained an invitation asking stakeholders to meet on February 8 to discuss how to integrate electric bikes and scooters on the road.

“Due to the rise in their popularity as an alternative mode of transportation, the ministry is interested in exploring the feasibility of these vehicles safely integrating with other road users while promoting road safety and fostering business innovation in the province,” reads the invitation.

It also identifies new requirements regarding licencing and separate definitions under the law for electric bikes and electric scooters as “key focus areas.”

With files from Murad Hemmadi