Officials with the scooter and bike rental company Lime say they thought they had the support of city leaders when they introduced their electric scooters uptown in early May — without a permit. That wasn't the case, and the company had to pull scooters off the streets. This week, Lime got its permit, as did two other scooter companies — Bird and Spin.
Sidney McLaurin oversees Lime's electric scooter and dockless bicycle programs in North Carolina. In an interview, he said the company has had a good relationship with Charlotte officials.
“And continuing that relationship, we had conversations with the city and several business leaders in the city prior to launching scooters," McLaurin said. "And so when we originally launched them, we felt that we had the support to go ahead and launch them.
“After the launch, we had some other conversations with the city and their request was that we give them some time to actually work on an official permit," McLaurin continued. "From their perspective that would be a sort of cleaner way to manage it. And so we agreed to a 10-day hold on services until they had time to do the permit process.
“So that permit is now officially done and we are back on the street,” he said.
McLaurin says Lime expects to have 100 scooters deployed by this weekend.
Charlotte isn't the only city where the company has gotten into hot water. In Honolulu two weeks ago, the mayor declared Lime's scooters illegal and workers began removing them from the streets.
The problem is that in most places, the law doesn't say anything about motorized scooters. Are they bicycles? Mopeds? Technically, companies like Lime can say they aren't breaking any rules.
“There really isn't anything that's a clear parallel,” McLaurin said. “What we are doing in a lot of these places, and really all these places, is having collaborative discussions with the cities to understand how can we best classify this as something that makes sense.”
He said the company hasn’t been able to come up with one solution that works across all its markets.
Besides Charlotte, Lime now offers rental scooters in San Diego, Washington, D.C., Miami, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Austin and Honolulu. (In Honolulu, they’re still working things out with the city.)
Lime and city officials agree on one thing, says McLaurin: some people want scooters to get around more easily without cars.
"When the scooters came out, we had about a thousand rides over the first three days," he said. "I think that's sort of encapsulates the main point, is that you know we want to figure out ways that people can get around that are not cars. And so we will continue to work with the city on how we can improve the permit, you know how we can change it."
McLaurin said the scooters' popularity before the service was halted in early May show there's demand in Charlotte.
"This is something that really has the potential to change the way people get around Charlotte and really how they get around major cities in the United States," he said.
Officially, electric scooters in Charlotte are on a five-month trial. In October, the city will re-evaluate the program and decide whether any changes are needed.