Overnight, they appeared. They may have rattled some cages, but it seems Bird and Lime scooters could be here to stay. Electric scooters have emerged as the latest contenders to reinvent transportation, popping up in cities around the world.
Fledgling scooter companies have taken some criticism for their sudden presence — often without the consent of their host cities — and the scooters themselves, which have been called “eyesores” and deemed “in the way” of commuters on the sidewalk. Yet others have marveled at the ease with which an electric scooter can traverse a too-far-to-walk, too-close-to-Uber trip. That is to say, you also could call a Lyft. By now, you might have a favorite rideshare company. But can you say the same about Bird or Lime?
For one month, I jumped on the bandwagon, using a dockless electric scooter to commute to and from work. The following is a summation of my experience as a rider, as well as detailed research into the benefits and drawbacks of working as an electric scooter charger.
Rideshare is now a noun and a verb, thanks to Uber and Lyft, companies that reinvented the wheel and redefined who sits behind it. But “scooter-share” has yet to develop the same ubiquity and “roll-off-the-tongue” ease. Caught between the complexities of maintenance, city ordinances, and scaling to meet demand, Bird and Lime are filling a need while performing a balancing act on two wheels.
Bird vs. Lime scooters: who makes them?
Bird launched in September 2017, led by Travis VanderZanden. Having previously founded Cherry, an on-demand car-washing service that was later purchased by Lyft, VanderZanden based the company in Santa Monica, California. Today, more than 80 cities have become home to flocks of Bird scooters. The company has also been quick to collaborate with colleges and universities to provide affordable and easily accessible transportation. Bird recently changed its business model to allow individuals to request a fleet to manage on their own. This model is very similar to that of GOAT, another dockless-scooter-for-rent business that has had limited success.
Lime scooters are an offshoot of LimeBike. In May 2018, the company rebranded to “Lime” and partnered with Segway to create new line of scooters, in addition to its fleet of electric bikes and smaller scooters. Originally founded in January of 2017 by Toby Sun and Brad Bao, Lime is stationed in San Francisco, California. Seventy-five American cities host Lime scooters, many of which also have Bird scooters.
The financial facts
In one month, I spent $75 to travel a total of 42 miles. Using Bird and Lime to commute ended up being cheaper and quicker than relying on either my personal car or rideshare. Despite having a much lower max speed than a car, the versatility of the scooter allowed me to zip past traffic and save several minutes per trip. Furthermore, I only included the average price of gas per trip to and from work. These calculations do not consider the monthly cost of auto insurance or the bimonthly cost of gasoline.
The only significant difference between Lime and Bird scooters is that Lime tracks the carbon emissions saved with every ride. Unless you’re a well-informed eco-activist, those figures might not mean a lot. Here’s some context: a full tank of gas burns more than 8,000 grams of CO2. By this calculation, I saved about a tank of gas in a month by using electric scooters. Pretty cool, right?
How do I start a Lime or Bird scooter?
The signup process for Bird and Lime scooters is advertised as simple and easy. While it takes only four steps to get started, it may take a bit longer if you’re unprepared. See below tips to ensure your ride is only a few taps away.
Download the app.
Have your credit card and ID at the ready. The app will scan your ID to confirm you’re over 18. Tip: If this is your first using a Lime or Bird Scooter, it’s a good idea to have gone through this sign up process before trying to ride.
Confirm you have a helmet — you’re running a risk if you don’t.
Most Bird and Lime scooters travel at a max speed of 15 to 17 miles per hour. The fine print of the user agreement states scooters must be driven in the road, preferably in a bike lane. Going uphill can significantly decrease the speed of your scooter, making you a slow-moving object surrounded by faster-moving objects that outweigh you by several thousand pounds. If that doesn’t encourage proper safety protocol, be aware you can receive a ticket for driving a scooter in an unapproved area — like the sidewalk — and riding without a helmet.
Tap “scan to ride” at the bottom of the screen and hover your phone camera over the QR code, located on the left handlebar.
Be patient while the next screen loads — it may take a few seconds. You can turn the front headlight on or off using this screen.
Listen for the “chirp” from the scooter.
If you attempt to immediately start riding while the app screen is loading, its wheels could lock up. Bird scooters are much slower to unlock than are Lime scooters. The scooter may take up to 30 seconds to chirp into action.
With one foot on the scooter, push off three times with the other foot. The electric motor will NOT start if you do not push.
The weight limit for one scooter is 200 pounds. This means no tandem rides!
How far you twist the right thumb switch increases your speed. You must hold down the switch to maintain a constant speed.
If you use a scooter built by Segway, how you brake will vary!
In recent months, both Bird and Lime have teamed up with Segway to create a line of scooters that don’t require a kickstand to stay up right. The other major difference between the Segway scooters and the original line is the breaking mechanism. These Segway scooters are easily identifiable by the Segway brand located either on the deckplate or handlebar stem.
How to brake on a Segway scooter: the brakes with the Segway models are a thumb switch, mirroring the green gas switch on the left hand bar. This brake switch is often red. If you wish to stop abruptly, let go of the gas switch, and twist the red. This will bring the scooter to an immediate stop, so deploy your brakes with care.
How to brake on an older Lime or Bird model: the brake is build like a bicycle brake lever — just squeeze when you wish to stop. This will slowly bring the scooter to a halt. When approaching a red light, remember to give yourself some space (just as you would in a car or on a bike).
Be aware of stopping in wet conditions. Bird and Lime scooters both work in rainy conditions but stopping too quickly can cause the scooter to skid and fishtail.
Are the scooters easy to ride? Absolutely!
If you become a frequent rider, prepare for sore thumbs. The handlebars, especially on Bird scooters, have a very rough grip. Tip: Don’t lock your knees. Going over bumps and through potholes is significantly less jarring if you absorb the shock and “bounce” along with the scooter. Don’t be afraid to use the bell if you must ride on a sidewalk. If you’re able to ride in bike lanes, be sure to obey all stop signs, traffic lights, and posted rules of the road.
The physical differences between Bird and Lime scooters are negligible, with the exception of the brakes. Finding a scooter between the two that provided a smooth, fast ride was about as reliable as the weatherman. I had the brakes on a Lime scooter almost give out on me one day, and on the ride home, a different Lime scooter maintained a speed of 15 mph uphill!
There’s no reliable way to know if the scooter you’re about to activate is a dud. I personally felt safer on a Lime scooter, despite my previous anecdote. Lime scooters’ handlebars are higher — when coming to a quick stop, I didn’t worry about flipping over onto the sidewalk.
In doing this hands-on research, several questions and overall themes arose. Below are answers to five of the most frequently asked questions about Lime and Bird scooters and riders.
Do the scooters charge you while they are paused?
Yes. Locking the scooter reserves the scooter just for you in case you wish to continue using it. Unfortunately, payment is charged by the minute, not the mile. You’ll have to pay for that time.
When do Lime and Bird scooters turn off?
Technically, Bird and Lime scooters don’t “turn off.” However, at 9 p.m., all scooters with non-low batteries — at least 90% charged — become “harvestable” (eligible for chargers to pick up). Since this is a lucrative business, as a rider, it can be tough to find a scooter after 9 p.m.
Where can I park the Bird and Lime scooters when I’m done?
There is no legal mandate regarding parking in either scooter’s user agreement. Each company prompts riders to be “kind” and “respectful” when depositing scooters. That being said, your city officials might require scooters keep a certain distance from public buildings or on-street parking, so be sure to look up the proper ordinances before riding. As a good rule-of-thumb, park your scooter near a bike rack. This keeps them off of the sidewalk and near other methods of transportation.
Do the scooters fold up or collapse?
Unlike personal electric scooters, neither Bird nor Lime scooters collapse. There is really no need for them to be portable, as riders don’t need to carry them into buildings for safe keeping. The only advantage would be for the chargers, as these scooters weigh about 40 pounds — hauling them into cars can be tough.
What happens if you break a scooter?
Every Lime or Bird scooter comes with an in-unit GPS system. They log who scanned the QR code. If you bust a wheel, overuse the brakes, or knock the motor loose, the company will know. For any minor repair needs, simply log the defect and a Lime or Bird mechanic will take care of it. Chargers can also log problems, so a malfunctioning scooter isn’t the end of the world. If you choose to launch a scooter into the nearest river, you could face more serious repercussions.
There could be major consequences for damaging someone else’s property while riding. In their user agreements, Lime and Bird defer accountability if you injure yourself while riding. However, little has been said about damaging others and their property — which has led to some interesting legal cases.
Lime carries liability insurance for bodily injury and property damage caused by their scooters. If you suffer physical or financial damage as the result of a scooter rider, you could file a claim against Lime — it may go nowhere, but it could lead to a payout. While there has been no legal action held against either scooter company after accidents, the companies have records to help the injured party identify the scooter operator.
Life as a Bird Charger or a Lime Juicer
Using the scooters to move quickly from point A to point B is a very different experience than working overnight as a charger.
A charger for Lime or Bird is paid an average of $8.40 per scooter, as a contractor through the companies. The approval process for becoming a scooter charger is much more simple than that of becoming Lyft or Uber driver. After a limited background check and a waiting period of approximately one week, Lime or Bird will send you four charging devices to get started.
“You supply some ID, take a few training quizzes, and then wait for approval,” said one charger in Austin, Texas.
As with most side gigs, you can set the hours during which you want to “harvest”. Any scooter with a low battery (less than 15%) can be harvested at any time, but you will have to wait until 9 p.m. for most scooters to become available. On the charger map, you will see three different colors, with each signifying the ease with which you will find a scooter. Green means it’s most likely there (see our map below). Yellow indicates it’s possibly nearby. Red is the most difficult to find. You must return all your scooters to a hub before 7 a.m. to get paid. More often than not, the direct-to-deposit payment comes two to three days after a charging session. Many chargers claim it is possible to make a living off charging Lime and Bird scooters.
Chargers are the ones taking the brunt of Bird’s and Lime’s growing pains. Contractors complain of weak app infrastructure, leading to unreliable GPS, incorrect tracking logs, app-user overload, and incorrect charge indicators. When the apps malfunction, this can cause a week’s delay in payment. Neither company has been quick to build a strong support system for their chargers.
One complication for chargers is the existence of “hoarders.” Described as the “bane of existence for chargers,” hoarders go out before 9 p.m., collect scooters, and do not scan them in the charger platform. They hide the scooters for two to three days until the bounties max out at $20. They then release the scooters and collect their illicit gains. Lime and Bird are aware of the hoarding problem, but are slow to ban users, despite chargers and juicers alike complaining about the practice.
*Tip: Scooter charging comes with a lingo of its own. Here are some must-know terms.:
- Harvesting: the process of finding available scooters, scanning them to be logged, then taking them home to charge in your garage.
- Ghost: the scooter that can’t be found no matter how many blocks you cover. It’s just not there.
- Bounty: how much money you will receive by scanning and charging a scooter. Generally, the more expensive the scooter, the harder it is to find.
- Hub (Lime) or Nest (Bird): the location at which you drop off the fully charged scooters before 7 a.m. to get paid. These are also the places where you leave a broken scooter to be fixed. Just be sure to report it as broken before you do so!
The charger exclusive
To better understand how the introduction of scooters has affected cities, we interviewed Joe Walsh, who worked as a charger for about six months in Austin.
- What’s it like being a Juicer/Charger?
When Bird first came to Austin, there were not that many chargers back then and I made a TON of money! But as time went on, there are lots of people looking for scooters. You have to be real quick and hustle hard as soon as 9 p.m. comes around. That being said, it’s still a great way to make extra money.
- Why did you decide to be become Juicer/Charger?
I did it as a side gig to earn extra money. When it first came to Austin, I was in between jobs so this was a great alternative. But then I got a full time job and it was just nice to have extra spending cash.
- How much do you get paid per scooter?
Generally, payouts range from $6 to $20 per scooter. Depending on how long a scooter has been sitting, the value of a charge goes up.
- If you work for both companies, which pays better?
I made more money off Bird, but only because I could find more Bird scooters. However, I will say that both were always very easy to work for as a contractor. They always paid me on time. With Bird, they shut off at 9. The consumer platform goes off and changes to charger.
- If you could improve one thing about the app or the process of being a charger, what would it be?
To be honest, the GPS on the app to locate scooters is not the best. Generally, it works just fine, but when it’s bad, it’s bad. It definitely could use some improvement.
This also goes for both Bird and Lime: eliminate hoarders faster!
- Do you any maintenance on the scooters at night?
I check the tires and handles at night. If I find one that’s broken beyond what I can do, I mark it in the app as broken. Then the next morning, I turn it over to maintenance guy at one of the nests. But, heads up newbies, there are maxes of how many can be in one nest.
- What makes some scooters worth more money than others?
Recently, I’ve heard a lot of fluctuation in the base value of a scooter in need of a charge. When I started, it was around $6, but in some places I’ve heard it’s as low as $4. In any case, a low battery and the time its been at the same location will increase the value of what you can earn from charging a scooter.
New to being a charger? Listen to the experts.
Becoming a contractor for Lime or Bird can seem a bit overwhelming, especially if you’ve never had a side job in the on-demand economy. We rounded up some top tips from folks who have experienced being a charger first-hand.
Be aware of the Segway scooters. “The segways tend to be the ones that beep all night and possibly not take a charge. You generally won’t know if you have a winner or a loser until you plug it in at home then you’re kinda stuck with it.”
“Here’s a tip to drop off scooters. Zoom in on the nest in the map and you’ll see a purple circle and where you are. Get your dot in the purple circle and you’re good to go, that’s where you can release.”
If a charging scooter is beeping constantly, this means there’s something wrong internally. Call the company and they can restart it over the phone. Be sure to report it broken, if it stops beeping after the restart. You can determine a lot from the error code flashing on the screen. We’ve provided a chart below to determine what the error code means.
“In the morning, take it to the Limebase or Hub and get an $8 payout. You have to take a couple of pictures, especially of the QR code and error code, and send an email to Lime support, but you will get paid as a “bonus” on your earnings.”
Considering becoming a mechanic? Many mechanics say the process and pay is relatively similar to being a charger. “I’m a mechanic for Bird and it pretty much shows them damaged in the same way the rider app shows them available to ride. When they are marked damaged, they’re removed from the rider/charger apps, and only mechanics or the fleet managers can pick them up.”
“I was a charger before and they just identify places that are popular in sidewalks and tell chargers and mechanics to drop them off there. All the nests are in a public part of the sidewalk which is why they can just be placed there. The companies all personally survey the best places though to make sure they aren’t in the way.”
The undecided future of scooter-share
As the first major companies in the market, Lime and Bird standardized the cost of dockless electric scooters: $1 to start and $0.15 per minute. As original innovators like Uber and Lyft have started testing out lines of scooters, they have followed suit with their pricing models.
While Lime and Bird are still busy stabilizing their business models, their much larger competitors have gained sure footing. In my month-long experience, I experienced issues with app speed, GPS accuracy, and the quality of the scooters themselves. As pedestrians and drivers continue to clash over road space, legal mandates loom on the horizon. As monoliths of on-demand transportation, Uber and Lyft already have experience with these tricky issues.
In a city plagued with dense traffic, dockless scooters provide some relief as another transport option. What dockless scooter startups might need to become a cornerstone of urban mobility is what their competitors already have: time.