Lime return to South Lake Tahoe up in air; Tahoe Ebikes business strong

Danielle Starkey / Tahoe Daily Tribune
Lime has paused 99% of its operations due to COVID-19.
Claire Cudahy / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Anyone wondering if those lime-green electric scooters will again be rolling around South Lake Tahoe anytime soon will have to keep wondering — at least for now.

Lime, the company that owns the green machines, announced in March — after shelter-in-place orders were issued — that it was suspending its scooter and bike-sharing business in California and most of its other worldwide locations. In cities where the scooters are still operating, riders are urged to wear gloves to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Lime at one time had scooters in more than 100 cities in 15 countries, including South Lake Tahoe, Los Angeles, London and Seattle. Last summer, it had a contract with South Lake Tahoe that allowed it to bring 550 scooters to the city. 

After some gruesome local traffic accidents involving minors, South Lake Tahoe insisted everyone riding a scooter must be 18 or older and wear a helmet, even as the state loosened its own rules.

As of Jan. 1, 2019, adults 18 and older are no longer required to wear a helmet when riding a scooter, matching the current rule that bicyclists over 18 don’t need to wear a helmet. (Anyone under 18 is still required to wear a helmet on either a bike or scooter.)

Lime officials said they were slammed hard by COVID-19. On April 30, company founder and CEO Brad Bao wrote to employees that, practically overnight, Lime went from being “on the eve of accomplishing an unprecedented milestone — the first next-generation micro-mobility company to reach profitability — to one where we had to pause operations in 99% of our markets worldwide to support cities’ efforts at social distancing.” 

That same letter announced that 80 employees — about 13% of the company workforce worldwide — was being laid off.

Harry Ward, who owns and operates Tahoe Ebikes out of his garage in Tahoe Vista, said he’s seen no significant change in business patterns since the pandemic shut down tourism. 

“I’ve been operating the whole time,” he said. “Bike shops were declared an essential business.”

Ward parks the company truck (which he uses to drop off and pick up bikes) in places where he can keep a close eye on traffic, and has been mystified by traffic patterns, he added. 

“Some Saturdays, I’ve seen just 500 cars go by. Other days, I’ve seen thousands. It’s as if there’s been a consensus, ‘Let’s all go to Tahoe!'”

Business began picking up about three weeks ago, which is a bit earlier in the season than usual, added Ward.

“My first year, I didn’t get going until June,” he said. “Most of my customers are, I think, people with a second home here or on a day up from San Francisco, looking for something fun to do.”

Ward has 13 e-cruisers, which are for use on bike paths and roadside trails and 10 e-mountain bikes, which are mostly for use on wooded trails. He said he studiously wipes down with disinfectant all parts that might have been touched by human hands. 

“I spray all grips, shifters, seats— anything anyone would touch. I can send (customers) an invoice on email if they don’t want to swipe a card,” he said. “If you’re outside and you’ve got a mask on, that takes away a lot of the risk of transmission.”

Currently, several Tahoe area bike shops are closed, and some are open only to sell and perform repairs on bikes.

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