City Council approves agreement to allow Lime scooters in South Lake Tahoe
Lime will bring its electric scooters back to South Lake Tahoe this summer after an agreement between the company and the city was approved Tuesday night.
The one-year agreement, an effort that city staff and Lime described as collaborative, was unanimously approved by council after nearly an hour of discussion.
Unlike in the previous two years, Lime will operate this summer under guidelines for the number of devices permitted in the city and with a per-ride fee intended to pay for safety enforcement.
The agreement caps the number of scooters at 550, with an option to increase the number pending approval from the city manager. In 2018 Lime had a total of 530 devices in South Lake Tahoe — a number that consisted of bikes and scooters.
Lime is only bringing scooters to Tahoe in the upcoming season, a move the company has already employed in other markets due to a lack of profitability.
The decision to ditch the bikes was cheered in March by some locals who viewed Lime as having an unfair advantage over local bike shops.
Although 550 represents an increase of 20 total units, several members of council expressed alarm over the number.
“Five-hundred and fifty scooters just seems like a pretty high number,” Mayor Brooke Laine said, echoing a concern raised by Councilor Tamara Wallace.
A running concern by some in the community regards Lime’s dockless system, which allows the scooters to be parked in any location the user decides to end their ride.
Councilor Jason Collin said the scooters are less obstructive than the bikes, which are larger and more visually noticeable due to their bright green color. Lime is a successful company that assuredly knows what the demand is in the market, Collin added.
Councilor Devin Middlebrook concurred, stating there were weekends in 2018 when the scooters and bikes couldn’t be found.
Still, Councilor Cody Bass and others said they would like to see an option to scale down the number of scooters if problems arise. Such a provision was not included in the agreement.
Attorney Heather Stroud clarified the city could cancel the agreement altogether if a major problem arises.
Council did modify the agreement to include direction to staff to work with Lime on a plan to scale up the number of scooters in the city — an approach Laine said Lime already intended to do.
Fees also posed another discussion topic for council.
The agreement establishes a 5-cent fee per ride in order to pay for increased safety enforcement and other city resources spent on ensuring the successful operation of Lime. Based on 2018 scooter ridership, the 5-cent fee could generate in the neighborhood of $10,000, according to the city.
Middlebrook suggested removing the 5-cent fee, stating that disincentives such as fees should not be applied to efforts aimed at getting people out of their vehicles.
Lime’s Sam Dreiman explained that the company is still working on the internal mechanism for assessing that fee, but clarified Lime does intend to pass that cost on to users.
Last year Lime charged $1 per ride plus 15 cents for every minute of use.
While the added cost is admittedly minimal, Middlebrook framed the topic as a larger policy question of furthering the city’s goals.
Wallace, in repeating that a 5-cent fee per ride would not pose a significant cost burden to users, said that forgoing cost recovery in instances where a business is believed to provide a social value could pose a problem for the city.
Agreeing that the 5-cent fee was so minimal that it would not discourage ridership, Collin agreed with keeping the fee.
Bass suggested dropping the fee in exchange for Lime agreeing to play a larger role in the community, such as signing on as a sponsor for Live at Lakeview, the free summer concert series hosted at Lakeview Commons.
Others agreed they would like to see Lime play a larger role in the community, but questioned dropping the fee in exchange for that larger role. Collin said it could present a slippery slope in the future.
In pointing out that South Lake Tahoe was one of the first markets Lime operated in, Dreiman said the company is committed to the community.
Council agreed to keep the 5-cent fee in the agreement.
Another provision requires Lime to move improperly parked scooters within four hours. If Lime fails to move the scooter, the city has the ability to remove it and charge a newly created $35 fee for each scooter removed.
Police Chief Brian Uhler explained that process would largely hinge on a citizen complaint. Judgement on the part of code enforcement also will factor into those decisions.
The agreement also promotes the use of geo-fencing, which would act to mitigate safety concerns in pedestrian-dense areas. Uhler recommended preventing the scooters from entering Heavenly Village altogether — the geo-fence would effectively turn-off a scooter when a user attempts to ride it into the village — and reducing their speed in areas like Lakeview Commons.
The agreement sets the maximum speed for the scooters at 15 mph.
In an effort to reduce ridership by minors, Lime will require a driver’s license to unlock each scooter. Dreiman clarified that one person can unlock only once scooter.
The agreement is pending Lime’s approval of council’s added requirement that the company work with the city on a plan to gradually scale up the number of scooters. Based on prior conversations, Stroud said she did not foresee Lime objecting to that addition.
If the agreement proves to be successful it could be renewed prior to the 2020 season.