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Scooter company Lime quietly planning national rollout to major Canadian cities

Row of bikes from the sharing economy bicycle rental startup Lime parked on a street on Alameda Island, Alameda, California, August 13, 2018. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
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Lime is quietly preparing for a national rollout to major Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Victoria and Edmonton.

The vehicle-sharing company, which offers pay-per-minute motorized scooters and dockless electric bikes, is hiring key staff across Canada and asking politicians in four provinces to alter laws to make it easier for its products to be used on city streets.

An analysis of lobbying records and job postings shows that Lime is seeking to set up shop in specific neighbourhoods and hiring key staff across Canada, including managers tasked with getting the company off the ground in Vancouver, Montreal, Victoria and Edmonton. In Toronto, the company has already hired a “city launcher” and an operations manager.

Lime has also been making presentations to city officials and provincial governments over the summer and fall, The Logic has learned. Some government officials expressed openness to changing laws to allow the company to operate. Others are expressing significant reservations.

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Lime, valued at US$1.1-billion and backed by Google and Uber, operates in over 100 cities around the world. It entered Canada in October with an electric bike pilot project in Calgary and a scooter pilot in Waterloo, Ont. The company hasn’t announced which other Canadian cities it hopes to expand to.

Talking Point

Lime wants to get its motorized scooters and dockless electric bikes on the streets of Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton and Victoria, joining pilot projects in Calgary and Waterloo, Ont. The company is hiring key staff and lobbying city officials. At the same, it is asking four provinces to alter laws restricting the use of scooters on roadways.

Lime in the city

In Calgary, Lime was one of two dockless bike companies selected by the city as part of a pilot project that will run into 2020. It rolled out its fleet of 375 electric bicycles two weeks ago, with 2,769 riders trying them in the first week.

Lime is hoping to expand its Western Canada presence from its recently launched pilot in Calgary to Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria. In all three cities, it has job postings up for city managers. In Vancouver, Lime is also hiring bike mechanics, paid $17 an hour, and employees who can move bikes and scooters around the city, paid $16 an hour.

Despite those efforts, Amanda McCuaig, a spokesperson for the City of Vancouver, said the city is “not in dialogue” with any dockless bike sharing companies, and expressed a number of concerns about dockless bikes.

“Cities that have experienced both dockless or ‘rogue’ bike share operators have seen a number of issues, including poor quality of equipment leading to safety concerns, confusion about where to dock non-city sponsored bikes, and issues with misuse of public space (such as abandoned equipment),” said McCuaig.

Lime did not directly respond to a list of questions from The Logic, including when it hopes to have its products available in Canadian cities and whether any governments have agreed to allow the company to operate in their cities.

“At Lime we are committed to working with regulators and partnering with city and community leaders so our multimodal fleet can best serve the needs of residents and visitors in each unique community,” said Lime spokesperson Andrea Chrysanthou.

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Officials in Victoria, where Lime presented to city staff in June, struck a more positive tone than those in Vancouver.

“Representatives from Lime are aware the city is considering introduction of new regulations in 2019 for dockless mobility services, and have shown an interest in participating in any consultation activities,” said Bill Eisenhauer, the city’s head of engagement.

Lime is hoping to bring its motorized scooters and its bikes to Edmonton, although it’s not the only bike-sharing company the city has met with, according to city spokesperson Jodi Tauber.

City staff in Edmonton are preparing a report on bike-sharing, which will go to city council in January 2018.

“City administration thinks Edmontonians would embrace a service offering bike share in our city, and we will know more on timing after our report goes to council,” said Tauber.

In Toronto, Lime has four lobbyists who have met with city officials 41 times, including several staff from Mayor John Tory’s office. Tory did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

The Globe and Mail reported in June that Lime had posted jobs for senior staff in Toronto. Lime filled those roles in September, bringing in Thomas Alif as operations manager and Meghna Kedia as “city launcher,” according to their respective LinkedIn profiles. Alif was previously with Zipcar, where he managed 700 vehicles in the Greater Toronto Area. Kedia’s profile says she is “responsible for establishing operations” for Lime’s scooters and bikes in Toronto.

According to the city’s lobbying registry, the last meeting with Lime took place in July. Asked if the company has met with the city since, Eric Holmes, a transportation spokesperson for the city, said, “It’s common for staff to meet with companies in a given industry, including those that offer e-scooter products and services, to learn more about their business landscape and how it may impact residents, city business etc.”

Provincial peddling

Provincial governments across Canada have also met with Lime, and some are expressing a willingness to discuss potential exemptions to laws. The key issue is that the top speed of the motorized scooters is about 24 kilometres an hour—below the speed of traffic, but potentially too fast for sidewalks.

Jamie Weiss, a spokesperson for British Columbia’s Ministry of Transportation, said the government met with Lime over the summer and is aware of the company’s desire to expand to Vancouver and Victoria, but current law restricts its ability to do so.

“It’s not legal for people to use motorized transport devices (such as solowheel, hoverboard, e-scooters, e-bikes, electric skateboards, etc.) on public roads or on sidewalks. This is true for all cities and communities in B.C., including Vancouver and Victoria,” said Weiss. “This is for the safety of everyone on the road, including drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and people using emerging technologies.”

Lime also met with staff from the Ontario transportation minister’s office in the fall. Justine Lewkowicz, press secretary for Minister Jeff Yurek, said Ontario’s law doesn’t permit scooters to be used on roads. Asked if the government is considering changing that law, as Lime is lobbying them to, Lewkowicz said, “There is no update at this time on any possible changes to current rules surrounding e-scooters.”

In Alberta, Lime has agreed to require all e-bike riders to wear helmets, as is required under the Traffic Safety Act. However, aspects of Lime’s operations may require exemptions from provincial regulations, according to John Archer, a spokesperson for Alberta Minister of Transportation Brian Mason.

“The Government of Alberta is always interested in innovative ideas to enhance transportation systems in the province. Any private sector proponents seeking to begin operations in Alberta must follow protocols and obey existing legislation, or work with Government ministries to apply for exemptions,” said Archer. “For example, following conversations with prospective Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber in 2016 Alberta established appropriate regulations for safe and legal TNC operations.”

Lime hasn’t always tried to work with governments prior to entering municipalities. In March, the company launched in San Francisco without the city’s permission. In response to the influx of electric scooters, San Francisco banned them for several months. When the city allowed a limited number of companies back in, Lime wasn’t among them. Other U.S. cities, including Beverly Hills, Calif., have also banned scooters.

In Canada, Lime appears to be trying to avoid similarly acrimonious relationships with city officials and politicians. In addition to its government lobbying, Lime recently hired Chris Schafer, public policy lead at Uber Canada, to serve as a senior director for strategic development in Canada. Schafer joined Uber in June 2014 and spent the next four years working on the ride-sharing company’s expansion across Canada.

Schafer spent last week, his first with Lime, in San Francisco, meeting with company officials.

“I am excited to join Lime to continue my work focused on changing the broader transportation landscape in Canada by revolutionizing urban mobility with smart, multimodal first and last mile transportation solutions,” said Schafer.

In Quebec, Lime wants a new provincial regulation that would allow its scooters on the roads under a framework governed by the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ).

The purpose of the changes, according to Lime’s lobbying registration, is to allow the company to launch scooters in Montreal’s downtown Ville-Marie borough, which  includes McGill University, Concordia University, and the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Youssef Amane, director of media relations for Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, said Lime met with city staff in the fall.

“Based on the SAAQ regulation, Lime’s scooters cannot be distributed widely on the streets. We wish to establish a regulatory framework for this new model of urban mobility, as well as to how public space is being used to insure the safety of all road users,” said Amane.

Lime announced a global recall of scooters this week, as some were breaking apart. When asked if Waterloo’s scooters were affected by the recall, Lime spokesperson Chrysanthou said there are “currently no scooters in Waterloo.”

“Decommissioned Okai scooters are being replaced with newer, more advanced scooters considered best in class for safety. The Waterloo area will receive a replacement shipment in the coming days to complete our pilot program,” said Chrysanthou.

In the United States, Lime faces competition from companies including Bird, Skip, Spin and Jump. For now at least, it appears as if Lime has a head start in Canada. The company has about a dozen lobbyists spread across the country talking to government officials. Lime’s biggest North American competitor, Bird, only started registering lobbyists in late October. It’s currently lobbying the provincial governments of Ontario and Alberta, as well as the City of Toronto.