It's happened to everyone: You're walking home, minding your own business, when no random devices suddenly start screaming at you about how the police are coming if you happen to bump into them. Fortunately, someone is finally disrupting that space.
A LimeBike dockless scooter, shown alongside one from competitor Bird. Photo: Getty Images
Scooter startup LimeBike, one of several services clogging cities across the US with dockless electric scooters that can be rented via an app and have quickly earned the hatred of many locals, apparently thought it was a great idea to equip theirs with blaring alarms that say, "Unlock me to ride me, or I'll call the police."
As The Guardian wrote on Thursday, this insane feature results in loud, dystopian threats of police attention any time someone comes in contact with the scooters without first unlocking them through the app:
A female voice from within Lime's e-scooters shouts the threat to anyone who tries to fiddle with the rides without downloading the app and paying. The company has also set their rides to blast cartoonish robot noises so loud that heads turn on busy city streets.
The threat immediately repeats on high volume and is the first and only sound the scooter makes. The words blare after less than a minute of a person standing on and exploring the buttons of the scooters, which Lime has been on with little warning and without government approval.
According to The Guardian, there is zero evidence that the feature actually summons the police - and since the scooters have been strewn around the streets for use by anyone who walks by and has the app, the legal basis for calling the cops is a little unclear. Also, anyone who has no idea what Lime is would have no idea what to do in this situation.
— Sam Levin (@SamTLevin) June 7, 2018
"This is not only an annoying noise, this is a threat to people," Oakland councilmember Rebecca Kaplan told The Guardian. "For black people, that can really be experienced as a death threat."
San Francisco supervisor Aaron Peskin added, "I've gotten plenty of complaints from residents and shopkeepers who are pissed off about the noise as well as the police state intimidation tactic. It's kind of ironic they go and plop them in the middle of the footpath, and then these things start abusing people."
A Lime spokesperson told The Guardian that the feature did not ever actually summon cops and new versions of the scooters had been updated to remove the warning, though the paper reported one scooter in Oakland still played it on loop for 10 minutes when it was repeatedly touched.
As The New York Times' Mike Isaac has tweeted (at length), this is the kind of thing that really rubs people the wrong way. Combined with other issues such as gloating over regulatory loopholes, scooter clutter, and users who don't feel the need to respect the rules of the road, the backlash to the scooters makes total sense.
and all of this smacks of "look how i found a clever solution through a loophole in existing legislation, my god am i smart" which is how (like uber of old) they are technically not breaking the law.
okay im done, sorry pic.twitter.com/gAYrdPmRBM
— ಠ_ಠ (@MikeIsaac) April 2, 2018
i know ive been railing on this all week but it is a literal physical manifestation of startup hubris:
"we know better, and will ram it down your throat until you understand."
— ಠ_ಠ (@MikeIsaac) April 5, 2018
Earlier this week, San Francisco implemented a law banning electric scooter rentals unless the companies involved obtain a licence, ABC 7 reported, a backlash to "numerous complaints of riders illegally on footpaths and clashing with pedestrians, along with scooters being ditched all over the place."
That means services such as Bird, LimeBike and Spin will likely be off the roads for much of June. The city's Department of Public Works has impounded over 500 scooters left on footpaths or improperly parked, ABC 7 added. Other cities such as Santa Monica are preparing new regulations.
In Denver, Lime and Bird aren't complying with removal orders from city officials, with Lime telling the Denver Post that it wants to help educate them on "the initial community learning curves of a new form of transportation".
Gf just texted me what should undoubtedly be the file photo for San Francisco’s dockless scooter backlash pic.twitter.com/Gko2ToHmpd
— Graham Hancock (@grahamhancock) April 13, 2018
As Motherboard reported, other features of the scooter-sharing services seem poorly thought out as well.
For example, Bird uses a gig economy of independent contractors to retrieve, recharge and replace their fleet of scooters. But Motherboard wrote those contractors say Bird offers little guidance on how they should retrieve the devices from private property, and some have allegedly taken to hoarding the devices to cash in on higher bounties for scooters marked as missing.