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Lime and Wheels to pause shared mobility services

Friday, March 20, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

Lime and Wheels will be the first dockless mobility operators to disable device rentals in Austin in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Cities across the country are considering how to manage dockless mobility under rapidly evolving conditions. On Wednesday, the city of Miami ordered all shared mobility devices to be remotely disabled in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. For now, the city of Austin is letting dockless mobility providers decide whether or not to halt operations.

Chief executive and co-founder of Lime Brad Bao said in a statement Wednesday that the company is pausing its service in 20 countries and 21 states “to help people stay put and stay safe.”

Lime is permitted to deploy up to 5,000 mobility devices, more than any other company, under Austin’s micromobility program.

Wheels, which is licensed for 500 electric mini-bicycles in the city, said yesterday on its website that it would pause all of its dockless operations at least until the end of March.

“We strongly believe that micro-mobility in general, and Wheels in particular, is in a unique position to help our communities get through the current challenges, and we look forward to continuing our service,” the company said.

This week dockless company Bird suspended operations across Europe, but not in the U.S. There are a total of nine licensed shared mobility companies in Austin.

As Lime winds down business across Europe and the U.S., the company said it plans to keep a close watch and take extra sanitary precautions while leaving its scooters on the streets in a number of other cities, including Sydney, Seoul and Abu Dhabi.

Dockless mobility trips have fallen sharply in Austin since the beginning of March. In the last week of February there were just over 90,000 trips on dockless devices while the weekly total dropped to under 80,000 trips in the first week of March.

At this time last year, Austinites and South by Southwest attendees clocked a total of 257,242 dockless rides in the week of March 12-18. With many businesses temporarily closed and South by Southwest canceled, that same week this year recorded only 46,000 rides. So far, there have only been 165,000 dockless trips in March.

Precautions over the virus are causing a massive shift in transportation patterns generally as more people stay home each day. Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority system ridership was down 62 percent Wednesday, with under 37,000 rides that day compared to the February daily average of 103,021. MetroExpress service took a sharp dive Wednesday as the agency cut commuter bus trips by about half. The service, which typically carries around 3,400 passengers per day, counted a mere 74 tickets on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, Lime had responded to the outbreak using measures similar to many of the city’s other shared mobility providers, committing to higher cleaning standards and required use of gloves for all mechanics and field operators who have contact with the devices.

“As challenging as this is, we’ll get through it together,” Bao said. “At Lime, we’ve always believed the people make the city. That’s doubly true now, when we need to step up and help each other.”

Photo by Luis Tamayo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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