What Went Wrong with Bike Sharing?

Chialin Yu
The Startup
Published in
4 min readJan 16, 2020

Photo by Paulo Almeida on Unsplash

News just in: Lime, the scooter startup, is laying off about 100 workers, or 14 percent of staff, and pulling out of a dozen cities in the U.S. and Latin America, including Atlanta and San Diego where scooter-related deaths have taken place. CEO Joe Kraus is confident that the company will become the “first next-generation mobility company to be profitable” after its cost cutting plans. Kraus also apparently denied the ongoing rumors that the company is running out of cash.

I was introduced to Lime much later than most people, roughly at the beginning of 2019. NYC is one of the few cities that every other transportation besides walking can make no sense, but when I was in San Diego a few months ago, I saw Lime scooters and smiley scooterer (is this a word?) everywhere and felt a very similar positive experience a few months later in Seattle. If I detach myself from the city restrictions of living in NYC, I am completely all for bikes / scooters / skateboards. They are faster than walking, healthier and greener than cars and that little bit of work-out makes you feel so good, plus for most cities, these vehicles are so conveniently spread out over the city that riderscan hop on and off anywhere . Everything sounds perfect. However, as I follow these companies, news on Lime’s lay-off, Go X’s fake permits, and bankruptcies continues to build, and make me question what went wrong. Why is this brilliant idea so hard to implement and execute?

Small caveat — I’m not an experienced user of shared bikes or scooters, and I don’t know much about the competitive strengths between Lime vs. Bird vs. Uber etc (apparently, popular opinion is that Lyft scooters are the best). Regardless of specific models and user experiences, I want to focus on just one thing here, and it’s that — businesses that charge by renting out “valuable goods” have a few common problems: 1) natural depreciation of the rented items and 2) handling / damages around the items. For example, Rent the Runway owns clothes which are rented out monthly to subscribers, so RTR deals with the natural depreciation of each wear and takes on the risk that people might stain and tear their clothes occasionally. Bikes and scooters probably can last long if handled probably, however, the lack of a monitored check-out system has left many bikes and scooters damaged without proper repairs and / or…