The local leader for Lime, one of the electric scooter companies operating in the city of Atlanta, said its temporary ban on issuing new permits for e-scooters is a good idea.
“We think it’s a reasonable approach,” said Nima Daivari, Lime’s community affairs manager for Georgia.
At its meeting Aug. 19, the Atlanta City Council voted to approve legislation to repeal the department of city planning’s authority to issue permits for e-scooters, also known as dockless mobility devices. That move came after Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms July 24 issued an executive order to temporarily stop the city from issuing e-scooter permits.
The council’s vote came after three individuals died since May while riding e-scooters in the city, and Bottoms Aug. 8 issued a separate executive order to ban scooter use between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., since the three deaths occurred after dark.
Lime is a San Francisco-based company that rents e-scooters and electric bicycles in cities across the world. It has 2,000 e-scooters in Atlanta, the maximum any company can have in the city. Daivari said the city has nine companies, also known as operators, allowed to rent e-scooters in Atlanta in an open-market format, and he hopes that number decreases.
“What we’re finding around the world is the magic number of operators is three to five operators per city, with hopefully a competitive bidding process such as an RFP (request for proposals) to select a set of operators for an individual city,” he said, adding Lime is willing to add more e-scooters to the city if Atlanta limits the number of companies that can operate in it. “The world was a different place even a year ago. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the proliferation of operators.”
Bird, a Santa Monica, California-based e-scooter company, was the first one to enter the Atlanta market in May 2018. Lime followed the next month. When the city’s e-scooter regulatory ordinance was drafted in 2018 (it was approved in January), Bird and Lime were the only companies in Atlanta. But seven more have been added since then, and more could come into the city, Daivari said.
“Without some sort of cap on operators, all of them could come right in,” he said. “There are dozens and dozens different companies popping up in Sweden, Germany, Brazil, Thailand and other countries. The concern is that with so many companies, how does the city assure (each one) is a strong operator?
“Some operators have e-scooters as just a small part of their business model. Volkswagen and BMW are getting into it. Hardware is only one part of the puzzle. Anybody can put together a couple of million dollars and launch a fleet. Do they have the operational excellence or the on-the-ground business model?”
The city issues e-scooter permits once a year for each company operating in it. Daivari said Lime’s permit does not expire until Jan. 31.
As one of the world’s largest e-scooter companies, Lime operates in more than 100 cities across five continents, with over 65 million trips and over 15 million riders worldwide, he said. In Atlanta, the impact Lime and other e-scooter companies have had is huge.
“We’re having over 500,000 rides per month across all the operators in Atlanta,” Daivari said. “That equates to more than 150,000 car trips per month eliminated.”
He said he communicates with department of city planning representatives and other Atlanta officials at least once a week, and attends city committee and council meetings often. The department hosts monthly meetings with all of Atlanta’s e-scooter operators.
Daivari praised the city for adjusting to the e-scooter issue with new ideas such as possibly adding bike/e-scooter lanes to roads in the future, something District 1 Councilwoman Carla Smith, who co-sponsored the legislation to repeal new e-scooter permits, said is likely.
“The city really lends itself to having e-scooters, so it’s really a testament to where the city is going with this with the infrastructure, coupled with the BeltLine, coupled with MARTA, plus 10 months of warm weather each year,” Daivari said of the city’s advantages when it comes to e-scooters.
To gain public input, the city will host a town hall meeting on e-scooters Aug. 26 at 6 p.m. at City Hall’s council chambers. Daivari said he doesn’t know how long the temporary ban on e-scooter permits will last, but he expects it to be in place until Atlanta’s new competitive bidding process is announced.
“Overall Atlanta is a pretty solid market. There are just some nips and tweaks and tucks to the program that need to be made,” he said. “I think no one in the world had the foresight to know where the world of scooters would be in August 2019 versus November 2018.”