LimeBike, the California-based dockless bicycle and scooter startup, has sent a letter to Austin city officials and council members criticizing the city’s stance in allowing Bird to deploy its electric scooters on Austin streets and sidewalks.
“…we cannot ignore the competitive challenge that Bird’s launch in Austin is to our core business model of providing dock-free mobility to solve urban transportation challenges,” the letter obtained by Austin Inno from LimeBike co-founder and CEO Toby Sun reads. “As such, we are considering our next steps as a company if the City of Austin is unable to vigorously enforce its dock-free mobility policies.”
UPDATE (Monday, April 16): LimeBike has deployed more than one hundred of its “Lime-S” scooters throughout Central Austin in an apparent response to the City of Austin not banning its competitor, Bird, from renting its scooters on Austin streets. In a second update, LimeBike confirmed it has deployed about 200 of the eclectic scooters and believes they have the potential “to dramatically enhance mobility in Austin by taking cars off the road and expanding Austin’s transportation options.”
City transportation officials confirmed that they received the letter, and they’re planning to discuss next steps with council members at a mobility committee meeting on Tuesday at City Hall.
LimeBike’s April 10 letter pleading for the city to crackdown more and ban Bird from the city’s forthcoming pilot program for dockless bikes came less than a week after Bird launched its scooters in Austin. Almost as soon as that happened, the city threatened to impound any scooters left in public right-of-way for more than 48 hours. Bird responded by promising to collect its scooters by 8 p.m. each night.
Since then, city officials say they have impounded 55 Bird scooters. It’s not clear how many total scooters may have been deployed so far.
“City staff met with officials from Bird and reviewed the safety violations related to their devices left in the right of way before releasing the scooters back to the company,” a city transportation official said in a statement. “No exchange of payment was made, but City staff is tracking all expenses related to the enforcement of their devices.”
Officials with Bird, which is based in Santa Monica and is raising $100 million in investment, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from Austin Inno. It previously issued a statement saying it believes that scooters, bikes and other things can be a hazard if abandoned in public right-of-way.
“We welcome the city’s action here, and look forward to working closely with them as they do this important work,” Bird’s statement said. “To assist, we are now directing Bird riders in Austin to park Birds on the street instead of on sidewalks where bikes and similar vehicles usually park.”
In its letter, LimeBike warned the city that Bird has operated in defiance of cities in the past. It cited a case in Santa Monica when Bird deployed scooters. The city issued a cease and desist letter, but Bird kept operating. The city took Bird to court and settled with the company for $300,000.
“Given the high likelihood that Bird will continue operating in Austin unless the City impounds each and every Bird scooter on the street, we are requesting additional information on the City’s response to Bird’s operation in Austin,” LimeBike wrote. “We have seen a few occurrences of Austin code enforcement teams impounding a limited number of scooters, but unless this operation expands, history tells us that Bird will continue to operate and likely expand the number of scooters it deploys.”
LimeBike, which has raised $132 million in investment and is active in Arlington, Dallas
and Plano, is one of several companies that hope to launch in Austin as part of the city’s pilot project. Others looking at a potential launch in Austin include Ofo, Spin, Zagster, Dropbike and VBikes.
“We have been working with the city for months, and look forward to continuing to work together as we try to better understand the regulatory environment around this new, innovative technology,” LimeBike Communications Manager Mary Caroline Pruitt said in an email statement. “Competition is good for consumers. We hope to bring our scooters to Austin in the future in collaboration with city and community leaders as we have in our other markets.”