Battery and design woes continue to torment e-scooter startup Lime

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

E-bike startup Lime has been in a spot of bother over the last month, as reports surfaced of its scooters breaking down - both literally and figuratively - when under constant use. This comes at the wake of Lime pulling out a batch of electric bikes that were in service across major cities, citing the possibility of them catching fire in certain instances.

Earlier this month, Lime had a public spat with its manufacturing partner Segway Ninebot over the issue, saying the problem lay in the batteries that the company produced, which heated up and eventually caught fire. However, Ninebot has since then retorted back, saying the problem was with Lime not understanding how batteries work. The company, in a statement, has mentioned that though it provides high standard products to its partners, it “does not participate in the operation, management or maintenance of the vehicles.” Thus, the onus of making sure the e-scooters are not subject to rough usage across different terrains by users falls on the shoulders of Lime, and not Ninebot.

“Considering the fact that the management and maintenance of the shared scooters and the identification of damaged vehicles highly rely on the operators, we strongly recommend that operators strengthen their capability of fleet operation and maintenance to avoid potential safety problems caused by the improper use of damaged vehicles,” Ninebot further said.  

Lime in its statement has clarified that the startup is working with Ninebot to clear issues by developing software programs that could address batteries that might be damaged, before they could turn potentially hazardous. “At no times were riders or members of the public put at risk. Unfortunately, despite our efforts, we’ve recently received an unconfirmed report that another Segway Ninebot scooter model may also be vulnerable to battery failure, which we are currently investigating,” said the statement.

This apart, Lime is also contending with a recent wave of scooters snapping into two, apparently due to a weak baseboard and over the duress of multiple users using it over rugged terrains. Reddit sub r/limejuicer, a board dedicated to Lime e-scooters is awash with pictures of scooters that are damaged beyond repair, with a user commenting that one in one every six scooters he picks up coming with cracks on the deck’s underside.

Lime blamed this on Chinese company Okai, which is one of the manufacturers that Lime has partnered with for producing its scooters. Lime reported that it had taken all Okai-manufactured scooters off the streets, though the absolute numbers on the removed scooters are largely hazy. While in use, Okai scooters have caused a few injuries as the baseboard was fragile enough to break when ridden off a curb at high speeds.

Regardless of this large-scale removal of Okai scooters, Lime has assured that its service levels would not be dented as the startup procures scooters from various manufacturers, which would step up with maintaining adequate supply. Okai has sold 32,000 bikes to Lime since the inception of its partnership, and if Lime is indeed removing all the said scooters off the streets, it might be left with a huge void to fill.

The issues might stem from the way people handle the scooters and the vandalism that most of these vehicles are subject to on a daily basis. A lot of commuters do not take too kindly to bikes dumped across non-designated parking lots and promenades, as it hinders movement and could cause accidents. Teenagers and college-goers who make up a considerable fraction of the e-scooter user base, have often flouted traffic rules and have indulged in acts of daredevilry on the roads, injuring themselves and damaging scooters in the process.

However, the replacements seem to have gained a good reputation. Users have commented that the newer versions have shorter and more robust footboards, which would help with stability and can sustain jumps from curbs better. Lime has also been working with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to understand product issues better, and has channeled $3 million towards procuring 250,000 helmets for its riders, making commute safer.

Ninebot has also risen to the cause, by announcing that it is looking to shift the batteries on its scooters to the baseboard from the scooter stem, which would further lower the center of gravity and improve stability. Meanwhile, e-bike startups need to collectively advocate for better regulations which would mean fines for vandals, a strict age-restriction for usage, and bans for repeat parking offenders from ever using the service - which would go far in making the streets safe and accessible for everybody.