Electric Scooter Sharing Startup Lime Now Knows if You're Riding on the Sidewalk
The electric scooter sharing craze of the past three years has been met with wide acceptance from riders as a convenient way to get around, but it also has caused a rift with city officials and some local residents where they are deployed.
For one thing, people often ride the small electric scooters on sidewalks instead of in bike lanes where they are required to be, which has drawn the irk of city residents who must contend with speeding scooter riders infringing in their sidewalk space. Not only is it dangerous for pedestrians, its illegal in most states.
Now San Francisco-based Lime, one of the most visible electric scooter-sharing startups, has developed a solution to keep its scooter off city sidewalks, reports the San Francisco Chronicle, which viewed the new technology firsthand.
Lime's new technology detects if a rider is traveling on a sidewalk using sensors on the scooter that detect the small gaps between each concrete sidewalk slab.
If a rider is traveling on a sidewalk, the company's software can detect it using vibration data from the scooter each time a rider traverses one of these sidewalk joints. Lime says its technology is 95% accurate at detecting if one of its scooters is being operated on the sidewalk.
EV Ellington, Lime's Northern California general manager, said in a statement, "We may have finally cracked the code on this issue and developed a technology that is effective and scalable."
Lime says the technology is really designed to educate riders and change their behavior rather than punish them. If a rider is on the sidewalk for more than half of their trip, the person will receive a notification and map via the Lime app letting them know that their behavior is illegal.
For now, there will be no penalties for riding on the sidewalk. However, in the future, Lime might be able to suspend a rider's account for repeated violations or ban an individual altogether from the Lime platform.
Lime said it was exploring other technological solutions for the past year using GPS, but the company found that GPS technology, with an accuracy of around 6 feet, wasn't precise enough to identify if a rider was on the sidewalk. The company also explored ways to slow the scooter down remotely if they crossed the curb onto the sidewalk, but that method was deemed unsafe for riders.
Lime is rolling out the new technology to its fleet of scooters in downtown San Jose, California over the next few weeks.
Lime plans to expand the sidewalk detection technology to the Bay Area cities of San Francisco and Oakland, although the company did not provide a timeline.
Shared electric scooters have become a popular way to get around in cities across the U.S. (Photo: Lime)
San Jose has become a hot test city for new mobility technologies, such as shared electric bikes and scooters. Lime operates the largest number of scooters in San Jose, competing with Bird, Jump and other new startups, including electric shared e-bike operators.
The state of California limits the speeds of electric scooters to 12 mph after reports of pedestrians having to suddenly dodge speeding riders. The law also requires that riders stay off sidewalks, which is difficult for cities to enforce.
In addition, if the street they are riding on has a posted speed limit greater than 25 mph, scooter riders must ride in a bike lane. However, enforcement of the rules, including those require helmets for riders under the age of 18, is often lax.
"I think every mayor in this country knows that you could deploy a police officer to every corner and you still wouldn't be able to stop folks from riding scooters on sidewalks," San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement. "We clearly need to find a technological solution."
In February 2019, San Jose State University, which is located just outside of the San Jose's downtown core, banned electric scooters from its campus altogether, citing safety concerns.
"The reasons for the new regulations are vast but as you can imagine, we have (had) collisions, trips and falls, and blocking of fire exits," San Jose State University police said in a statement announcing the ban. "This is a small list of reasons why SJSU has set these new regulations."
The university even confiscated the electric scooters scattered around its campus after the ban and made operators pay to get them back.
Part of San Jose's permit required to deploy electric scooters pushed companies to develop sidewalk riding detection technology and prove its effectiveness by Friday. If they fail to do so, San Jose could penalize them by limiting scooters or issuing fines.
"Ultimately, the primary responsibility of any city is for the safety of its residents," Liccardo said. "We recognize there are disruptive technologies that are challenging to regulate. Then we need to put it on the companies to utilize their technology to help us make the industry safer."
In December 2018, the San Jose City Council passed legislation to help manage electric scooters. The permit requires each e-scooter operator to pay an annual permit fee of $2,500, and then $124 per year for each scooter deployed within the city. Currently, Lime, Bird and Lyft are permitted to have 900 scooters each on the streets.
The operators must also share anonymous usage data with city officials, including routes and distance traveled, which the city will use for road planning.
San Jose is meeting with the other scooter companies this month to review plans.
Lime operates its electric scooter sharing service in dozens of cities across the U.S. spread across 25 states and in Europe.
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