LimeBike to remove bikes for winter, return to South Lake Tahoe next spring | TahoeDailyTribune.com

LimeBike to remove bikes for winter, return to South Lake Tahoe next spring

A rack of LimeBikes outside Tahoe Mountain Lab gets a light dusting of snow on Sept. 21.

On Oct. 15, LimeBike is scheduled to remove its 200 bikes from South Lake Tahoe, concluding the three-month pilot project that was the subject of much debate. Despite some backlash from the local community, usage data points to a successful launch — and LimeBike says it's looking forward to returning next spring.

"As far as coming back, we are thinking some time mid-April or earlier, depending on weather," said Nick Fong, new market launcher for LimeBike, a dock-less bike sharing company brought to the South Shore with the help of The League to Save Lake Tahoe.

Fong said launching in a smaller tourist market like South Lake Tahoe came with its share of challenges, including bikes left in weird locations and community uncertainty about the Bay Area start-up.

When the program first launched, it was common to see multiple Facebook posts a day on community pages complaining that the bikes were an "eyesore" or unfair competition for local bike shops. One bike even ended up in the lake for the short-lived #LimeBikeChallenge.

“The LimeBike experiment reflects innovation, creativity and the spirit of ‘let’s try something new,’ and it’s nice to see South Shore be the place where innovation is tested. Whether or not it ‘works,’ will primarily be determined by market conditions and the analysis from private enterprise.”

— Nancy Kerry, South Lake Tahoe city manager

However, LimeBike says the biggest obstacle was technological.

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"The main thing was cellular signal. It was and remains our biggest issue," said Fong, explaining that dead zones made it difficult to locate bikes that weren't showing up on GPS.

It's a basin-wide issue, and one that local nonprofit Tahoe Prosperity Center is working to remedy through its Connecting Tahoe project.

"All of these issues were fixed by increasing our headcount," said Fong. LimeBike went from two employees handling bike redistribution around town to five by the end of the pilot program. Additional employees also allowed the company to be more responsive to requests for bikes to be moved from odd locations or private property.

Ultimately, the rider data pointed to a successful first season on the South Shore.

To date, LimeBike has tallied 11,918 trips with 5,613 unique riders, accounting for a cumulative riding distance of 9,299 miles.

At a rate of $1 for a 30-minute ride, LimeBike did not make a profit from its three months in Tahoe, but it's not something the company is concerned about, said Fong.

"Our core mission was to help The League to Save Lake Tahoe with their goal, which was to get people out of cars. We've done thousands of miles of cumulative riding. From that perspective I think it was profitable," explained Fong. "Just for perspective, for other markets that we have, we break even on some days if not better. For many startups that doesn't happen for years in some circumstances."

LimeBike also operates in Greensboro, North Carolina; Key Biscayne, Florida; and Seattle, Washington.

At this time, the company has no plans to increase its rate.

"For us it's very valuable to be in Tahoe and have that experience and exposure that we did. We saw it as a marketing opportunity and a learning opportunity for how we can run better operations," added Fong.

PERMITTING QUESTIONS

Many of the questions about LimeBike centered around permitting and how the company was able to operate in the city of South Lake Tahoe.

As a dock-less bike-sharing program, LimeBikes are booked using an app that scans a QR code and unlocks a mechanism on the bike, freeing it for use. The bikes do not have to be returned to any particular spot, though riders are encouraged through the app to leave them at business "hubs" or bike racks.

"LimeBike has a regular business license like all other businesses, there is no difference in their business license," South Lake Tahoe City Manager Nancy Kerry told the Tribune. "There have been questions about the way in which LimeBike operates — that is, their customers rent bikes in random locations where they are found and similarly leave the bikes wherever the customer terminates their ride. LimeBike did not 'set up a post' in any city-owned facility or anywhere else in the city."

Kerry said there is nothing in the city's laws prohibiting other bike rental companies from operating in a similar manner.

(LimeBike did not require a permit from the U.S. Forest Service for operation because bikes were removed from federal land by the redistribution team if left there.)

"I've been asked how the city 'allowed' such a business to operate and how did the city 'allow' the bikes to be green? Shouldn't the city require the bikes to be painted blue (Keep Tahoe Blue), etc.," continued Kerry. "Generally, residents and businesses want less regulation from government and it should always be carefully considered before implemented.

"The LimeBike experiment reflects innovation, creativity and the spirit of 'let's try something new,' and it's nice to see South Shore be the place where innovation is tested. Whether or not it 'works,' will primarily be determined by market conditions and the analysis from private enterprise."

Kerry said she hopes community members continue to discuss LimeBike and share their ideas and concerns with the company, and, if additional regulation does become necessary, with City Council.

"However, as I typically do, I would encourage any proposed government regulations be minimal and focused on a specific problem or issue in order to allow new innovation to flourish and discover its own course of success first, before government regulation interrupts the innovative process."

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