Lime scooters sit ready to be rented in front of the Midtown complex near downtown Starkville Saturday morning. While city leaders laud the scooters as an overall positive, some Mississippi State officials have noted them being improperly left on campus. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch
February 16, 2019 10:03:50 PM
Lime's presence continues to grow in Starkville and a recent pilot program rollout of the company's electronic scooters has created some headaches for Mississippi State University officials.
Lime, a bicycle and scooter ride-sharing service, started operating at MSU, then Starkville, with its bikes in the fall. In the roughly six months since, Starkville Operations Manager John Usry said the company has added its electronic bikes -- which are pedal assisted but can be propelled by battery -- and, at the end of January, electronic scooters.
The scooters have, so far, been a hit with riders.
"We've had well over 2,000 rides with the scooters alone," Usry said. "That's been in under three weeks. The cumulative distance ridden is over 3,000 miles. It's been a very short amount of time that we've seen an incredible adoption rate on a very low number of scooters."
In all, Lime has a fleet of about 200 vehicles in Starkville and MSU, including Starkville's 25 scooters -- primarily deployed on campus and in the downtown and Cotton District/Russell Street corridors in the city.
Lime allows users to rent bicycles and scooters by using a mobile phone app, similar to what Uber clients use to order vehicle rides. The app charges a $1 unlock fee and 15 cents per usage minute. College students who register to use Lime with a .edu email address can use the vehicles for a discounted rate of 50 cents per half-hour.
The company reports about 5,000 users in Starkville, and about 17,000 bicycle rides in September -- with bicycle use continuing to increase even after scooters were introduced. Usry said the company's long-term goal is to phase out its pedal bikes, which are already nearing the end of their lifespans, in favor of the e-bikes.
MSU Director of Parking and Transit Services Jeremiah Dumas said the university has had some issues with the scooters since their rollout.
The university's agreement with Lime is only for bikes and does not include scooters, he said. Still, the scooters have become a common, sometimes hazardous, sight on campus. Lime and other similar services have faced pushback in other communities across the country due to safety concerns or bikes and scooters being left unattended in improper places.
"Unfortunately, we do see scooters on campus," he said. "I've seen pictures of multiple people riding the same scooter on campus. We've had pictures people have sent us of people hitting cars -- all the things we've basically heard about are playing out here. We're attempting to work with Lime to keep these things off campus as best we can."
Dumas said Lime has told the university it will monitor scooter usage and create a geo-fence in its app that alerts users not to leave scooters in certain areas -- MSU's campus, in this case.
"I was anxious to see how the riders here would respond and if the issues we'd heard about on the national side would manifest here," Dumas said. "We're still unclear as to how things are responding but we will continue to be steadfast in our agreement that scooters are not to be on campus."
Usry said he's aware of Dumas' concerns and Lime has taken steps to notify users not to take scooters on campus. He said the Lime app will warn users not to ride the scooters to MSU and will warn them again that they're in a no-parking zone if they attempt to leave a scooter on campus.
Lime has staff that takes a van to patrol campus, pick up any scooters it finds and move them off of campus, Usry added. Lime has also deployed the scooters further along Main Street, away from campus -- Usry said the company has determined the scooters deployed in the Cotton District often end up on campus.
Still, he said it can be hard to control riders' usage, especially with Starkville's significant college student population.
"The reality is, as many messages as I can send out through the app and in emails to our riders, the same way people still run stop signs, people are still going to disobey," Usry said. "He's (Dumas) made it pretty clear that they're just not ready for scooters on campus and regardless of if we would want that. We're going to honor their wishes."
Usry said that Lime can also fine users who leave scooters in restricted areas.
"That would be something that, should we be allowed to expand our fleet past our pilot program, we would look into doing something like that to tighten the control," Usry said. "With the (current) fleet size, I think it gives a bad perception and would drive away ridership, and ultimately it's something I would have to raise pretty high up the chain of command to get pulled off. But it is an option."
Mayor: Scooters are good for the city
Mayor Lynn Spruill said Lime's 25 scooters in the city are part of a test program, and the city and company are evaluating whether the program should continue.
City Attorney Chris Latimer confirmed that Lime's memorandum of understanding, which aldermen approved in September, allows for scooters.
Overall, Spruill said she's been pleased with Lime's presence in Starkville and feels the service offers a broader range of transportation options for residents and visitors.
"I think they've been fun and I hope they can continue to be a good alternative option for transportation in the city," she said.
Spruill said she is aware of the scooter's ban on campus, and she said she believes that ban may be helping to push scooter ridership more into the city.
"The campus has to do what they feel like they need to do," she said. "From the city's perspective, we're a much bigger place than just the campus, so I think the opportunity to use the scooters has been well-received and has offered an ability to get around quicker, further than the bikes do."
Spruill said she has heard some reports of scooters being used on sidewalks, where they are not supposed to be unless on a multipurpose path. She said resolving those issues comes down to rider education.
"It's a matter of being respectful to pedestrians and cognizant of the traffic situation in the community," she said. "I think it's just a matter of learning how we all fit together in this."
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