By Peter Holley
November 10, 2018
The fast-growing electric-scooter company Lime has decided to immediately remove one of its models from every city across the globe after determining that it could break apart while in use.
The decision to suddenly pull the scooters off the streets came several weeks after the company said the same model occasionally breaks apart “when subjected to repeated abuse.”
But on Friday — in response to questions from The Washington Post about the scooters breaking apart under the strains of normal riding conditions — Lime said it was “looking into reports that scooters manufactured by Okai may break and [that it is] working cooperatively with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the relevant authorities internationally to get to the bottom of this.”
Okai is a Chinese manufacturer whose products include scooters. No one could be reached at an email address or a telephone number listed on its website — or at a telephone number provided by Lime.
Lime said it would decommission all Okai scooters in use in its fleets, but company officials said that determining the precise number of scooters affected by the recall was difficult and declined to provide an estimate. They also declined to say in how many U.S. cities the scooter model is in use.
Riders across the country regularly report on social media that they’ve seen Lime scooters broken in two, often where the baseboard meets the stem.
“Safety is Lime’s highest priority,” the company said in a statement. “The vast majority of Lime’s fleet is manufactured by other companies and decommissioned Okai scooters are being replaced with newer, more advanced scooters considered best in class for safety. We don’t anticipate any real service disruptions.”
The mass removal comes several weeks after Lime — one of the nation’s largest scooter companies — acknowledged that it had pulled thousands of its scooters off the streets this summer after discovering that a small number of them may have been carrying batteries with the potential to catch fire.
Those scooters were made by the mobility company Segway, which pushed back against Lime’s claims that a manufacturing defect made the scooters vulnerable to catching fire.
Some Lime employees, riders and other affiliated individuals say they worry the company may not have moved fast enough to address concerns about the scooters breaking apart.
An independent contractor who charges Lime scooters overnight, known as a juicer, provided copies of emails showing that he had warned the company about the problem of scooters breaking as early as September.
The juicer, a man in his 40s named Ted, asked that his last name not be used for fear of retribution. He said that a few weeks after he began working for Lime in July, he began noticing cracks in scooter baseboards and broken scooters on the street. He estimated that he found baseboard cracks in about 20 percent of the scooters he picked up to charge. Eventually, he highlighted the issue in a lengthy Reddit post that included multiple photos of broken scooters.
The arrival of electric scooters for rent in D.C. has been met with a giddy embrace from riders and annoyance from other residents. (Reuters)
In an email dated Sept. 8 and addressed to Lime support, Ted warned Lime about four scooters with “cracks on the underside of the deck,” which he labeled a “systematic issue.” He included photos and an identification code for each device. Ted also asked about his payments for recharging the devices.
A Lime employee responded to his email but did not address the scooter defects.
“Thanks for your email and our apologies for the challenge,” the employee wrote, referring to a question about payment. “I have submitted your payment to Finance; please allow four to seven days for it to post. The payment will show as a ‘bonus’. We appreciate your patience and understanding.”
The message prompted Ted to respond with another plea about safety.
“I hope the Lime team takes the issue of the cracking scooter decks seriously,” he wrote. “I have dropped off 3 scooters now at the warehouse that were cracked completely in half, and 4 more that had started to crack. All of them have cracked in the same location.”
“I believe this is a design flaw that is beginning to surface,” he added.
Ted said Lime did not respond. Lime declined to comment on his account.
A Lime mechanic in California, who helps service the devices, said employees at his warehouse performing day-to-day maintenance on the company’s scooters have identified scooters at risk of cracking over the past several months. This employee said managers did not aggressively follow up on those concerns. The mechanic spoke on the condition of anonymity and did not want to identify the city where he works for fear of revealing his identity.
The mechanic — who said employees monitored how long scooters remained functional after being deployed on city streets — said cracks could develop in the baseboard within days of a device being placed on the streets. The mechanic provided video of employees performing tests in which Lime scooters break after a few small hops. Later recounting the tests on the company’s Slack messaging system, another mechanic noted to a manager that the device can snap even when the rider weighs as little as 145 pounds, according to images of the discussions provided to The Post.
“I would suggest that these are unsafe for public use,” the other mechanic wrote. “It’s only a matter of time before someone is severely injured . . . if not here, somewhere else.”
Responding to a message on Slack, a manager said she had “raised concerns” about the breaking scooters and been told that mechanics should continue testing the problematic scooters and “work on re-enforcement techniques.” The manager wrote that she would forward photos of similar techniques that she had “gathered from other markets.”
Lime declined to comment on the mechanic’s statements or the Slack exchange.
A spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission said the agency does not approve products before they reach the market. If a “substantial product hazard” is reported by consumers and verified, the spokesman said, the agency could work with a company to issue a recall.
“We are aware of the issue,” a CPSC spokeswoman said. “CPSC is working with the firm to gather information and to protect consumers.”
Since Lime launched its scooters in the spring, two people have died while riding the devices, and others have been badly injured, according to authorities. When police located a scooter that Jacoby Stoneking had been riding when he sustained blunt-force head injuries in the early hours of Sept. 1, the device was snapped in half, though few other details about the accident are known, according to police and Lime officials. The 24-year-old east Dallas man died in a hospital the next day.
Stoneking’s death resonated with Stephen Williams, 29, a Dallas man who said he was injured when the scooter he was riding snapped in two on a busy city street on Oct. 10, throwing him to the ground chest-first. A week later, Williams said, he is still in pain.
Contemplating his accident, Williams — a data analyst at a technology company — remembered details of Stoneking’s accident and wondered whether there was a pattern. He began searching for examples of broken Lime scooters, eventually logging more than 40 instances on social media, in news reports and on Reddit, including six that he personally encountered. Williams included those numbers in a wide-ranging review of e-scooters that he provided to the Texas Department of Transportation in Dallas, as well as to Lime.
His verdict: In a city heavily reliant on cars for personal mobility, scooters have great potential to “stitch” the city “back together,” allowing people to travel to nearby neighborhoods without creating more traffic. But, he said, he considers the Lime Okai model unsafe for him to ride.
“I feel extremely disappointed, perhaps betrayed, by these devices,” said Williams, who says he refuses to ride another Lime until the company improves scooter safety. “That’s disappointing to me because the utility of these devices is so profound.”