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E-scooter company Lime lays off nearly all Canadian employees

A man rides a Lime e-scooter in Calgary. Shutterstock/David Prahl
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E-scooter company Lime has laid off all but two of its full-time Canadian staff, The Logic has learned. 

The Canadian cuts, which were confirmed by three sources with knowledge of the situation, were part of global layoffs announced at the end of April that affected about 80 employees, or 13 per cent of Lime’s workforce. They come as a growing number of cities are turning to e-scooters to help alleviate crowded transit amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Talking Point

Lime was the first major e-scooter company to come to Canada. In November 2018, The Logic reported that the company was hiring managers in Vancouver, Montreal, Victoria, Edmonton and Toronto. Bird Canada launched seven months later, after Lime had built relationships with cities nationwide. Now Bird is stepping into the gap left by Lime’s departure and increasing its lobbying of cities.

Lime spokesperson Russell Murphy did not directly answer The Logic’s questions on exactly how many people were let go in Canada or how many remain, but said the company is “fully committed” to the country and would hire more staff. “As more cities adopt or restart scooter programs, we will add team members to oversee those operations,” said Murphy. 

Calgary is currently the only city in Canada where Lime is operating its e-scooter sharing service, launching for the season last week along with its rival, Bird Canada. The companies introduced e-scooters to the city’s downtown last year as part of a 16-month trial program, removing them for the winter. The city had delayed their return this spring as a result of the pandemic. 

Kelowna, B.C. and Edmonton, which permitted e-scooters last summer, are in the process of finalizing regulations for this summer, multiple sources told The Logic. Windsor and Ottawa are moving ahead with plans to launch e-scooter pilots this year. 

Lime’s layoffs came one week before the company announced it had secured a US$170-million investment led by Uber, reportedly valuing it at US$510 million—a 79 per cent drop from its valuation in 2019. As part of the deal, Lime took over Uber’s e-bike and e-scooter division Jump, which in Canada operates only in Montreal. 

Chris Schafer, Lime’s senior director of strategic development, was the most senior Canadian employee to lose their job. Schafer joined Lime’s Canadian operations in November 2018, after leading Uber’s public policy operations in the country for over four years. He was the only Lime employee registered to lobby the governments of Manitoba, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, and was the primary point of contact for many other governments. 

“Lime has centralized a range of roles including our government relations team,” said Murphy. “Members of our government relations team manage regions and are highly-responsive to a range of local officials across a number of cities,” adding that Lime’s Canadian operations are being overseen by Toronto-based Michael Markevich, who is also responsible for the company’s operations in Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane in Washington, as well as Portland. Markevich did not agree to an interview request. Lime’s Canadian operations also rely on contractors the company calls “juicers” who charge and move its e-scooters around cities.

Multiple government officials in Eastern Canada expressed concern that instead of dealing with the Canadian staff they’re used to, Lime has offered Sam Sadle, who is San Francisco-based, as a point of contact. Western Canada government officials have been asked to contact Seattle-based Jonathan Hopkins. The Logic agreed not to name the government officials, as they were not authorized to speak publicly. 

Prior to the staff cuts, both Lime and Bird were trying to convince Canadian cities to see e-scooters as ways to safely get people around during COVID-19. Some cities are accepting that way of thinking. 

“Shared and private e-scooters offer residents a personal mobility choice during the post-pandemic recovery period that is supportive of physical distancing and could reduce crowding on transit,” reads a report prepared by staff for Ottawa city council this week, which recommends the city move ahead with a pilot project this year. 

Lime was the first major e-scooter company to come to Canada. In November 2018, The Logic reported that the company was hiring managers in Vancouver, Montreal, Victoria, Edmonton and Toronto. Bird Canada launched in Canada seven months later, after Lime had built relationships with cities nationwide.

Now Bird is stepping into the gap left by the departure of Schafer and other senior staff like Mathiew Lobraico, who was one of Lime’s employees registered to lobby Quebec. In April, Lime lobbied City of Toronto officials 65 times. That number fell to zero in May. Bird lobbied Toronto officials 31 times in April and 35 so far in May.

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Asked for comment on Lime’s staff cuts, Bird Canada CEO Stewart Lyons said his firm is looking to hire more people. “Scooter interest has accelerated in Canada in the wake of COVID-19 due to concerns around social distancing and public transit, and we’re planning on launching in a bunch of markets in Canada this year, and we’re actually adding people,” he said.

Lime’s staff reductions come despite the country being one of its most lucrative markets. Earlier this week, the company said Calgarians use their e-scooters more than any other city in the world. Bird says its ride volume per scooter in the city is already double what it was last year.