Electric scooter-sharing grinds to a halt in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

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Electric scooters are vanishing from more cities as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to roil shared mobility services across the world. Lime, the largest e-scooter-sharing company in the world, said it would be suspending service in nearly two dozen countries. Bird said it would halt operations in six US cities as well as all of its European markets. And Spin, which is owned by Ford, has had to pause service in “very few” cities and universities.

The decisions to suspend service reflect the rapidly changing environment in the US and around the world in response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Just three days ago, Lime was the only scooter company to halt operations in two US states and three European countries.

Now, with “shelter-in-place” orders, social distancing, and most people simply staying at home, scooter companies are likely seeing a steep drop in demand. The timing of the pandemic is also posing a challenge for the money-losing scooter business, that sees its business slow down in the winter and pick back up again when the weather turns warm.

Lime, with roughly 120,000 scooters in 30 countries, is making the most drastic cuts. The company said it was “winding down or pausing” service in the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.

The company’s scooters remain available in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Brisbane, Australia; Busan, South Korea; Christchurch, New Zealand; Dunedin, New Zealand; Hamilton, New Zealand; Selwyn District, New Zealand; Seoul, South Korea; and Sydney, Australia.

Bird said it is pausing service in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Portland, Miami, and Coral Gables. The company has also pulled its scooters from all of its European markets, which includes Annecy, Antwerp, Barcelona, Berlin, Bordeaux, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Krakow, Lisbon, Lyon, Madrid, Marseille, Munich, Paris, Rimini, Sevilla, Stockholm, Torino, Verona, and Vienna.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is undeniably affecting countless lives on a global scale. Given our deep understanding of and empathy towards the cities, communities and people we serve, we are temporarily pausing our service in a variety of cities,” a spokesperson said. “This is very fluid as the response to COVID-19 evolves and is in line with voluntary, as well as mandatory measures set by local governments for businesses.”

In contrast, Spin says it has been asked to “step up” by some cities to help “fill transportation gaps after the public bus system was shut down.” The Ford-owned company says it was designated as an “essential service” during the city’s shelter-in-place order “and encouraged to continue operations as a healthy mobility option.” Still, Spin said it has also paused operations “in very few markets,” either because a city requested it or because a university campus has been shut down. (A spokesperson didn’t specify which cities it had paused service.)

For the remaining scooters still available to rent, all of the companies say they have stepped up their sanitizing efforts and instituted new workplace protocols for employees to ensure social distancing in the warehouses that are still opened.

Lyft is still offering scooters to rent in San Francisco, but it halted operations in Miami at the request of the city. Jump, which is owned by Uber, didn’t respond to requests for comment. According to Streetsblog, Jump has only paused scooter operations in Sacramento, California. Last month, Lyft said in a regulatory filing that the outbreak in China has led to production delays of certain automotive parts and components of bikes and scooters.

Scooter-sharing isn’t the only mobility service to suffer due to the pandemic. Public transportation ridership has cratered and fare revenue has practically dried up. Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are also seeing precipitous drops in gross bookings in cities hit hard by the disease. Three weeks of social distancing and warnings to stay at home have taken a huge bite out of the total number of trips taken with all modes of transportation.

But as people avoid transit and shared modes of travel, the silver lining seems to be the number of personal mobility trips that are rising. In New York City, for instance, cycling traffic on the East River bridges is up over 50 percent and Citi Bike ridership is up almost 70 percent compared to this time last year. But city officials aren’t doing enough to protect those riders who are switching to bikes; cyclist injuries were up 43 percent between March 9th and March 15th, according to NYPD statistics obtained by Streetsblog.

Cities have a unique opportunity during the pandemic to remake their streets to better prioritize these low-carbon forms of transportation. “While staying at home and following government recommendations for social distancing is the first order of priorities, if you have to take a trip and do not want to ride public transport, or if public transport has reduced service, the bicycle can be a good alternative,” Virginia Tech transportation expert Ralph Buehler said in an email.

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