One of the companies behind a proliferation of rentable electric scooters that has led to protests and legal threats in some U.S. cities is setting up shop in Toronto, trying to bring the controversial idea across the border for the first time.
LimeBike has posted job openings for senior staff to run a Toronto expansion and has been making the rounds to lobby city councillors. The firm wants to begin operations here as soon as possible, according to one of the politicians who spoke with its representatives, but their reception at city hall has been tempered by caution.
“I have questions about all of the vehicles they want to use and how they would fit into already crowded infrastructure,” said Councillor Gord Perks, who came away from his meeting with the company unconvinced.
LimeBike’s business model includes bicycles and scooters, both electrified, that can be rented for short trips. The vehicles are dockless, meaning that they don’t have a physical structure to which they have to be returned. The vehicles can be left anywhere, with a would-be user finding the nearest one by accessing the company’s app on their phone.
How such scooters would fit under Ontario law is unclear. A spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation stressed in an e-mail that they don’t offer legal advice, but added that the vehicle sounds like a motorized skateboard, which would not meet provincial standards for on-road use.
However, City Councillor Michael Thompson, who met recently with LimeBike, said that the company presented the product as being legal to operate in the city’s bicycle network. He took a trial ride inside city hall on one of the electric scooters and loved it. “I would use it,” he said.
The company did not respond Friday to requests for comment, but its Toronto plans were confirmed by multiple councillors who had met with the firm’s representatives
Some of the city politicians who have spoken with LimeBike representatives question whether its vehicles will really help address the city’s transportation problems. But there is also enthusiasm, with a number of councillors saying such a service could help move people in areas where transit is lacking and potentially offer bike-sharing with less of an infrastructure footprint.
According to LimeBike job postings that appeared recently online – seeking a general manager and operations manager in Toronto − the company “aims to revolutionize mobility in cities and campuses.” Information recorded at the city’s lobbyist registry indicates that the company hopes to introduce both its bicycles and scooters to Toronto.
In the past year, a number of companies have distributed thousands of small electric scooters – essentially motorized versions of the Razor, a human-powered scooter that was named Toy of the Year in 2001 – in a long list of U.S. cities, including Dallas, Baltimore, Atlanta and many in California. They have often followed the model of other disruptive transportation firms, beginning operations without regulations or permission and angering policymakers along the way.
The model of letting people leave the scooters anywhere has led, in some cities, to the vehicles overwhelming urban spaces. Pedestrians fume about being endangered on sidewalks, and cyclists were unnerved by an unpredictable new occupant of bike lanes. Angry citizens began vandalizing scooters, including by hanging them in trees and throwing them into the water.
To manage the situation, San Francisco issued a cease-and-desist order against a number of scooter companies, Santa Monica, Calif. passed an emergency ordinance allowing the city to impound scooters that block public space and Los Angeles assembled a slate of rules that would constrain how the companies operate.
However, none of these measures appear to be hurting the companies competing in this space. The scooter firm Bird recently raised US$300-million in financing, according to Reuters, and has a valuation of US$2-billion.