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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane’s scooter contract with Lime ends this month. How could it change next year?

A dozen or so Lime scooters lie on the Spokane River bottom last August at the east end of snxw meneɂ (sin-HOO-men-huh) Island in Riverfront Park.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Winter in Spokane has unofficially begun – Lime has been sweeping its rentable scooters and bikes off the city’s streets, marking the beginning of the end of the 2023 scooter season.

It was a good season for Lime, statistically the best the company has had since its scooters debuted in Spokane five years ago. Use was up 28% this year compared to 2022, and Spokane County riders have hopped on Lime’s vehicles nearly 600,000 times since March.

Lime scooters are likely to return to Spokane roads in spring, but the company’s contract with the city only runs through November. In the coming months, the City Council will either work on a new scooter contract with Lime, switch to one of Lime’s competitors or allow multiple companies to operate rentable scooter programs in Spokane simultaneously.

City Council members said that they’ve had mixed reactions to Lime scooters in the last five years.

The scooters are undoubtedly fun, and likely encourage people to spend more time downtown. They’re also a convenient form of transportation that reduces reliance on cars.

“I think it’s a great tool,” City Councilman Michael Cathcart said. “It’s a nice amenity.”

But the 1,500 or so scooters that live on Spokane’s streets in spring, summer and fall also come with significant downsides, and council members said they want to ensure the city’s next scooter contract places more restrictions on scooter operators.

City Councilwoman Karen Stratton said she believes too many Lime scooter riders behave irresponsibly. They travel on sidewalks illegally. They leave scooters in problematic places on sidewalks, too.

Scattered scooters in the middle of walking paths pose a hardship for people with disabilities, Stratton said. She said she knows a blind woman who has difficulty walking around them. People in wheelchairs sometimes find them an insurmountable obstacle, too.

In addition to keeping Lime scooters off sidewalks, Stratton said she wants to figure out a way to prevent kids from riding scooters. People aren’t required to wear helmets when riding Lime scooters, and in theory, people younger than 18 aren’t allowed to use the vehicles at all.

Spokane needs to figure out a way to protect kids “short of hiring nuns with big rulers to stand on street corners and smack people,” Stratton said. 

Paul Dillon, a newly elected city councilman who will take office in January, said he’s primarily concerned with the negative environmental impact of Lime scooters thrown in the Spokane River.

“That has to be a priority in conversations going forward,” Dillon said. “It feels like it’s been too swept-under-the-rug.”

People have thrown hundreds of them in the river since 2018, although Lime says it consistently removes them and the problem has lessened over time.

“When new things appear, people do stupid things with them,” said Jacob Tugendrajch, Lime’s communications lead for North America and the Asia Pacific. “It’s gotten much better.”

The company in November has removed three scooters and one bike from the river.

Dillon, Stratton and Cathcart all said they want to revisit the compensation structure of the next scooter contract, too.

Lime pays the city 75 cents per vehicle for every day one is out on the streets, plus a $17,000 annual fee. Spokane has received more than half a million dollars from Lime since 2019, including $190,000 last year.

Stratton and Dillon both said they believe Lime is paying too little, considering the number of scooter-related complaints the city receives.

Cathcart said he’d like Spokane to allow for more competition between scooter providers. He noted that Bird, Lime’s primary competitor, has reached out to the city in hopes of putting some of its scooters on the street. Lime shouldn’t have a monopoly in Spokane, Cathcart said.

Tugendrajch said Lime continues to work on ways to educate customers about where they can and can’t ride and park scooters.

He also said Lime is the world’s biggest micromobility company and therefore better-equipped than its competitors to respond to citizen concerns in Spokane. Lime in February said it’s the first micromobility company to post a fully profitable year.

When accounting for interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, Lime earned $27 million in the first half of 2023. The company earned $15 million in all of 2022 by that same metric.

“We’re running a pretty darn successful program in Spokane,” he said. “We’re the biggest and best at this in the world.”

Cathcart said he understands why many have had negative reactions to Lime scooters. Spokane’s next scooter contact should address safety concerns, sidewalk issues, compensation structures and vehicles that end up in the river, he said.

But he emphasized that he believes people need to be receptive to new types of technology.

“There’s often going to be the negatives,” Cathcart said. “We’ve just got to work to find the right balance.”