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What is Lime? The urban electric scooter provider backed by Uber and Google’s Alphabet

Ride-hailing app giant Uber, along with Google's parent company Alphabet, has contributed to a £253m investment into a US-based electric scooter hire company - and will partner with the start-up to let its app users access the low-carbon vehicles. As attention both positive and negative for the company mounts, we ask: what is Lime?

An electric scooter hire company has raised $335m (£253m) worth of investment from Uber and others, it was announced yesterday (9 July) – but what is Lime?

As part of the deal for the California-based start-up’s round of funding, Uber users will be able to rent the dockless Lime scooters through the ride-hailing giant’s app.

Other contributors included Google’s parent company Alphabet, US private equity investment firm IVP and international technology investment firm Atomico – whose CEO Niklas Zennstrom founded Skype.

Lime founder Toby Sun said in a blog post: “The new funds will give us the ability to expand our operations globally, develop new technologies and products for consumers and build out our infrastructure and team.

“Uber will work with us as a strategic partner in the electric scooter space to offer people a greater variety of transportation modes at their fingertips and make it increasingly easy to live without a car.

“As electric scooters grow in popularity and become a more beloved way to travel short distances, the partnership adds to Uber’s vision of becoming a transportation platform for people around the globe.”

What is Lime
The Lime fleet includes a pedal bike, electric bike and electric scooter


What is Lime? How it works

Until now, people have been able to locate and unlock a dockless electric scooter, electric bike or pedal bike using the Lime app – and either scanning a QR code or entering a six-digit ID.

It has mainly operated in the United States, where it serves more than 50 communities.

Electric bikes and scooters cost $1 (75p) to unlock plus 15 cents (11p) per minute, while pedal bikes cost $1 per 30 minutes – including the unlocking fee.

Similar to Uber, rides are paid for by uploading bank card details when registering for the service and automatically debited after use.

As Lime vehicles are dockless, rides are ended by the user pushing down a locking arm connected to the rear wheel in any location.


What is Lime? A financial retrospective

Founded in January 2017 by Toby Sun and Brad Bao, Lime secured its first round of funding when investors led by private American venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz pumped $12m (£9m) in the company in March that year.

Known at the time as LimeBike, the start-up had its first official launch at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro in June 2017, where it deployed 125 bicycles.

what is lime
A Lime bike

The following month, it launched 500 bikes in Seattle, Washington, before raising $225m (£170m) worth of investment in October.

By May this year, the company re-branded as Lime and announced it would be partnering with scooter manufacturer Segway so as to produce new two-wheeled vehicles.

This latest $335m (£252m) funding round has led to a valuation of $1.1bn (£830m) for the company, establishing its status as a “unicorn”.

Lime employs more than 100 people at its San Mateo, California, headquarters – with many staff brought in from companies like Facebook, Uber, Amazon, LinkedIn and PepsiCo.


What is Lime? Global prescence

As the start-up hit the one million rides milestone in the US in December last year, it also began to branch out into Europe as well.

what is lime
A Lime electric scooter in Denver, Colorado

Electric scooters were first rolled out into Berlin, Zurich and Frankfurt at the end of last year, before being introduced in Paris last month – the city in which the world’s first bike-sharing network was launched in 2007.

In Paris, users are charged 15 cents (13p) for every minute of riding at a maximum speed of 15mph for up to 31 miles.

All vehicles are picked up every night at about 9pm for recharging and repairs.

Lime director Arthur-Louis Jacquier, speaking to Reuters, said at the time: “Paris is our first big-scale deployment in Europe – we have big ambitions in Europe.”

He added that the company plans to launch in 26 European cities by the end of the year, which remain as yet unspecified.


What is Lime? Spells with controversy

While Lime’s expansion has been rapid, it’s not always been smooth and, in June this year, the company’s electric scooters were banned from the streets of San Francisco.

San Franciscans had filed more than 1,800 complaints since the start-up’s launch in their city concerning riders illegally speeding down the pavement.

electric scooters,
Electric scooters are operated in Paris through the Lime app

The city called for a temporary ban on Lime scooters, along with those of similar companies Bird and Spin, which began on June 4.

It required the three dockless electric scooter providers to comply to a permit programme to regulate their vehicles until a more viable system can be implemented.

For the moment, any shared motorised scooter found on the city’s pavements will be confiscated and the operator will be charged fines of up to $100 (£75) per day.

Similar action has been taken in Santa Monica and West Hollywood, as municipal institutions attempt to determine how to implement the bikesharing system without angering their residents.