When businesses started to close in March, scooter companies in Charlotte quietly collected their hundreds of little electric vehicles from city sidewalks and parks. You may have noticed their absence.
On Saturday, the scooter companies will start a small re-launch of their fleet. The timing aligns with Governor Roy Cooper’s easing of the state’s stay at home restrictions. Beginning Friday afternoon, nonessential businesses can once again operate, albeit with restrictions.
The three e-scooter companies — Lime, Bird, and Spin — usually operate 400 scooters apiece. This weekend, Lime and Spin will put 50 scooters back out, says Liz Babson, director of the Charlotte Department of Transportation (CDOT). The companies will work with the city to adjust the size of their fleets moving forward based on demand. Bird will relaunch soon as well, on a date that is to be determined.
New focus: Before the coronavirus outbreak, scooter use was highest in dense neighborhoods in and around Uptown, like South End and Plaza Midwood. Now those areas, formerly buzzing with pedestrians and office workers, are quiet.
One scooter company, Spin, says it is focusing on the medical community right now, and the essential workers who have mostly remained on the job throughout the pandemic. Spin will deploy scooters near Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center and Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. Lime will go in Uptown and South End. Bird will go wherever there’s demand.
“They’re really trying to be thoughtful during this pandemic … to figure out where they can support the community and what that adjusted business model looks like,” Babson says.
Free rides for doctors and nurses: Spin and Lime also will offer free rides for health care workers. Anyone who can validate their employment in Charlotte’s health care industry receives a free 30-minute ride.
Lime is launching this effort through a program it’s calling Lime Aid. Qualified health care workers can use this link to sign up. Spin’s is through its Everyday Heroes program, which offers free rides and helmets to the health care community. Medical workers can sign up here.
The e-scooter companies say their vehicles provide a safe transportation option during the coronavirus outbreak. A Lime spokesman noted that some residents may not yet want to take ride-sharing services yet, either.
“People need a safe way to get around while maintaining appropriate social distance to take essential trips to their jobs as front line workers, or to deliver food and groceries,” Bird spokeswoman Natalie Sawyer said in an email.
Separately, Spin has said it is exploring a monthly rental option for its scooters. But it’s early in that process, and there aren’t many details to share yet.
New cleaning measures: All three companies have said they’ll have enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures in place during their re-launch.
- Lime has increased the frequency of the cleaning of its scooters. Lime workers will clean all parts of the scooter that riders touch, and will only use products that the CDC recommends.
- Spin says every time a scooter is picked up or enters a warehouse, employees will disinfect the main contact points on the scooter with disinfectant spray or wipes.
- Companies are encouraging riders to wash their hands before and after rides.
Zoom out: E-scooters launched here in 2018 and quickly became popular, eclipsing dockless bicycle shares in ridership. Ultimately, the companies that had launched dockless bikes in Charlotte phased them out.
Since e-scooters arrived in Charlotte, city officials have grappled with how to regulate them. Earlier this year, the city created designated corrals around town for riders to park their scooters.
As of Friday, Charlotte riders had taken 151,451 scooter trips (113,855 miles) so far in 2020, according to the city.