Scooters Tee Up Fresh Set of Transportation-Share Issues for Dallas

Don't you want to be this happy? Maybe you should get on a scooter.
Don't you want to be this happy? Maybe you should get on a scooter. Lime

Just as Dallas' skirmish over the bike-share wave of 2017 seems to be winding down, a new front is opening up in the city's ongoing quest to prove that if you squint and tilt your head just right, you can actually maybe get by in Dallas without a car — assuming you're not in a hurry.

Lime, the company formerly known as Limebike, dropped its first batch of electric scooters in Dallas on Monday morning, promising yet another alternative for those with short commutes or who need a last-mile solution to connect from their transit stops to their jobs. The scooters are zippy — capable of traveling at speeds of almost 15 mph — compact and easy to use, according to Lime and its Dallas competitor, Bird, but it's a safe bet that Dallas is going to have just as many problems with them as it does with their bike brethren.

As bike-share bikes piled up downtown and elsewhere in Dallas by the thousands over the winter, the Observer did the best it could to figure out what it will take for the bike-share companies to turn a profit in a city like Dallas. By cobbling together ridership data provided by Lime with a study from the National Association of City Transportation Officials, we figured out that Lime's bikes didn't appear to be ridden nearly often enough for the company to break even after factoring in overhead, thefts and bike replacement.

Lime hasn't released key numbers like the theft rate for its scooters or how much the company is paying for the vehicles, but it's clear that the hill the company needs to climb to make the scooters profitable is similar to what it faces with its bikes. While the scooters rent at a higher rate than the bikes — $1 to start and then 15 cents per minute for the bikes, compared with $1 per half hour for the scooters — there is additional overhead involved.

Each of the 250 scooters the company offers in Dallas has to be picked up every night to be charged. Lime's getting that done two ways, according to Sam Sadle, the company's director of government relations and strategic development.

First, the company is paying people who sign up to be "juicers" to scoop up the scooters after sundown, charge them at home and drop them off at designated locations before 7 a.m. at a rate of $5-$20 per scooter. The company is then going behind its juicers and picking up any scooters that remain, making sure none are on the streets at night.

In addition to keeping the bikes charged, Lime also faces the risk of the scooters being picked apart by those looking to make a quick buck. As documented by CNET, San Francisco, which got its scooters in late March, quickly saw a cottage industry spring up around stripping the scooters down, either to ride them for free or to part them out.

Sadle says he doesn't expect similar issues in Dallas, however.

"We find that because we have such tight control of the scooters every day and that they're so frequently in use, that they generally have low theft and vandalism rates." — Sam Sadle

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"We don't anticipate that happening in Dallas," Sadle says. "Our scooters are deployed in the morning, they're ridden around throughout the day and then picked up every evening. We find that because we have such tight control of the scooters every day and that they're so frequently in use, that they generally have low theft and vandalism rates."

The company hasn't encountered any major challenges with regard to people hacking the scooters or using them improperly, either, Sadle said. In Deep Ellum, members of the community, including City Council member Adam Medrano, have complained about hacked bikes being used by criminals.

"It's still a new technology, so I think we'll have to wait and see what comes, but generally we find nationwide that loss is a relatively low number," Sadle says. "It hasn't in any way limited our ability to operate in the markets in which we do operate."

The Dallas City Council lifted the city's ban on electric scooters on a six-month trial basis in late June. Later this year, the city will decide what to do with regard to the scooters' future. 
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

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