Charlotte warns scooter company to end service. Now riders are 'jamming city e-mails'

CHARLOTTE, NC (Steve Harrison/The Charlotte Observer) - Two days after the city of Charlotte told Lime it had to stop its scooter-share program, the start-up asked its users Thursday to email city officials to lobby for the scooters — prompting an exasperated response from a City Council member who said the company is "jamming up my city account."

Lime — formerly known as LimeBike — started a scooter ride-share program Tuesday morning with a demonstration in a parking lot near the Bland Street light-rail station. The company said the scooters have been well received in the city, with nearly 1,000 scooter trips taken in two days. The company didn't say how many scooters it has deployed here, so it's impossible to know how many rides have been taken on each scooter.

Lime and three other companies have an agreement with the city for a dockless bike-share program that started in November. Each company can have 500 bikes for rent by cellphone app, and the city allows them to be left on city owned sidewalks. It doesn't have an agreement that covers scooters.

In a cease-and-desist sent to the company Tuesday, the city said it had been working with Lime about bringing scooters to the city.

"With that history, it is unclear to the city why Lime would prematurely end discussions and unilaterally deploy this electric scooter share program without reasonable exploration of safety implications," the city wrote.

Lime is supposed to remove all scooters from city sidewalks by Friday.

Lime said it's working with the city to address safety concerns. It's also asking its users to contact Mayor Vi Lyles and City Council members urging them to allow the scooters to stay.

"Our initial deployment on private property with our local business partners is already proving a hit," Lime's email to its riders said. "Unfortunately, the City has threatened to shut the Lime service down in Charlotte. We need your help! The City needs to hear from you just how important dock-free smart mobility is. It will take less than a minute of your time and could make the difference between whether we have additional affordable, carbon-free transportation option in Charlotte or not."

Republican City Council member Tariq Bokhari was not pleased. On Facebook, he said the company was not telling people "the whole story."

"Hey LimeBike, the next time you rally our city to send hundreds of template emails jamming up my city account to express support, why not tell them the whole story?" Bokhari wrote. "Like how you didn't follow the pilot permit protocol and decided to ask for forgiveness rather than permission (like you did in several other cities and have been fined because of) I was, and still am supportive of getting your very cool scooters back on the streets. But safety is important and warrants a conversation. And one sided, poorly thought out tactics like this make me less willing to go out on a limb and partner when other companies are going through the right channels."

Lime said Charlotte is the third city on the East Coast to receive the scooters, after Washington D.C. and Miami. It has also launched the scooters in San Diego, Austin, Texas, San Francisco, San Jose, Calif., and Los Angeles.

The electric scooters cost $1 to unlock plus 15 cents per minute and are unlocked with a cellphone app. That's more expensive than the regular price of dockless bikes, which is $1 for 30 minutes. The bikes and scooters can be left anywhere.

In Nashville this week, another scooter ride-share company, Bird, received a cease-and-desist letter from that city, according to the Tennessean newspaper. San Francisco also sent cease-and-desist letters to Bird, Lime and another company over their scooter programs, according to the San Francisco Business Times.