Lime picks Paris for European escooter sharing launch

Electric scooter rental craze is sweeping the US, about to do the same in Europe

Lime wants to roll out its electric scooter and bike rentals to 125 markets.

Lime wants to roll out its electric scooter and bike rentals to 125 markets.

 

The electric scooter rental craze that is sweeping the US is coming to Europe. Silicon Valley-based Lime is launching its scooters in Paris this week, marking the start of an aggressive international expansion plan.

The arrival of the popular, but controversial, scooters in Paris - which pioneered city bike-sharing services with the Velib more than a decade ago - will be an early test of European consumers’ and regulators’ appetite for a service which is attracting a huge wave of investment on the other side of the Atlantic.

Lime’s launch makes it the first of the growing clutch of US escooter start-ups to launch its rental service outside the US, beating arch rival Bird to the potentially lucrative European market.

The two companies offer powered scooters for a few dollars per trip, hired using a smartphone app and ridden standing up at speeds of up to 15mph. They can be found scattered around a city, and dropped off anywhere.

Scooter start-ups are racing to launch in cities around the world as quickly as possible, in the hope that being first on the streets will hand them an advantage in an increasingly crowded market.

Both Lime and Los Angeles-based Bird, which hired a former Uber executive to lead its European operations this year, are in the process of raising hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding rounds. The financial firepower is needed to accelerate their expansion and fend off competitors, including Uber which is bringing its electric bike-sharing service, Jump, to Europe soon.

Starting with bikes

Lime was founded last year as a bike hire company before moving into scooters, and now operates in more than 70 cities and college campuses, mainly in the US. In Europe it offers traditional and electric bikes in Berlin and Frankfurt. It tested a small number of scooters in Zurich, before committing to a full European rollout.

After it releases hundreds of scooters in Paris this Friday, Lime plans to launch in more than 25 markets across Europe before the end of this year, according to Caen Contee, a co-founder who is leading the company’s international expansion. It also hopes to enter the UK market but with electric-boosted pedal bikes at first, because escooters are not permitted on British roads.

Mr Contee said Lime had discussed its launch with local politicians in Paris, who he said had set only “rough guidelines” for the service so far. “They want to see it in action,” he said, before drawing up regulations.

The proliferation of app-rental scooters has upset local regulators in cities from San Francisco to Nashville, who say the schemes exploit legal loopholes, clutter pavements and create safety risks for riders and pedestrians alike.

Nonetheless, the ability to pick up and drop off powered scooters anywhere for just a few dollars a ride has proved popular with Americans for short journeys across town. Lime says that each of its scooters was used an average of nine times every day in San Francisco during April and early May.

Lime has raised $350 million (€304 million) in funding from Silicon Valley investors including Andreessen Horowitz and now has more than 120 employees. It hopes to attract a strategic investor from Europe as part of its current funding round, as it pushes towards a target of 125 markets globally by the end of the year. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018