Lime is withdrawing from the Starkville market, and according to officials, is citing Mississippi State University’s decision to not allow scooters on campus as its reason for leaving.
Mayor Lynn Spruill and Jeremiah Dumas, director of Parking and Transit Services at MSU, both confirmed they received letters from Lime on Tuesday announcing the intention to pull out all of its services.
Lime, which began service at the university near the beginning of the academic year and with the city in September, provides pedal bikes, battery-powered electric assist bikes and electric scooters. But all of those will be gone by March 15.
Lime had a fleet of about 200 vehicles in Starkville and MSU, including 25 electric scooters it added in the city in January. In a Dispatch report Sunday, Dumas said the university’s contract with Lime doesn’t allow for scooters and there have been concerns — such as people hitting cars on campus, riding the scooters improperly and leaving them in the wrong places — since Lime deployed scooters 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.
In the letter to the city, Lime Director of Strategic Development Todd O’Boyle requests to terminate the contract for pedal bike services in the “immediate future.”
“We are constantly looking to improve the way our riders move throughout their cities and we’re eager to bring the latest innovation to the communities we serve, but we recognize that every city is different,” the letter says. “There is no one-size-fits-all transportation solution.”
While the letter does not mention the university, Spruill said Lime cited it as a reason when she sought answers on a Tuesday call. Spruill said she had expected the talks would focus on allowing Lime to expand its 25-scooter pilot program, rather than the company leaving altogether.
“They said that because the university was adamant about not allowing scooters on campus, that they were going to withdraw from the market because their business model is going to solely scooters,” Spruill said. “I pressed them, I said the bikes were pretty cool, and he said, ‘Our business model shows, our clientele shows, our customers show that they all want scooters. So if we got to nothing but scooters, then Starkville is not a market that can support that at this point in time.'”
Dumas said the scooters weren’t even a consideration when the university started its contract with Lime. At the time, he said, Lime was only pitching its pedal bikes and electric assist bikes, which were considered the cutting-edge technology at the time.
“Then scooters came into the market and we were really not ready for scooters,” Dumas said. “The market was evolving and growing so fast that there were some concerns, primarily about safety. That’s why we didn’t jump into the process with them.”
Still, Dumas said Lime’s decision came as a surprise, and the bikes have been a popular product on campus.
“We’ve had good success with the bikes,” he said. “Students, fans, staff and faculty have used them and by what we have heard and feedback we received from Lime Bikes, ridership has been high.”
Use in the city
Lime Starkville Operations Manager John Usry told The Dispatch for Sunday’s report that the bikes have generated more than 17,000 rides since September. The company’s 25 scooters in Starkville have generated more than 2,000 rides and 3,000 miles of use since their deployment at the end of January.
The company reported about 5,000 users in Starkville.
Spruill, who has been a vocal supporter of Lime since its arrival in Starkville, said she is disappointed in the company’s decision to leave the city.
She said the city could look to other ride-share companies, but that may not be much use if they have similar business outlooks as Lime.
“If their business model is correct and Byrd and Lime and whoever else is out there is going to scooters, then our ability to be a market they want to be in is going to be dependent on the university,” she said. “It’s going to be whether or not the university gets comfortable with having the scooters on campus — in that case, we’ll be able to participate with them again. But until that time, it is just a business decision on their part and I have to respect that.”
Dumas said MSU will need time to consider its next steps — whether that’s potentially partnering with another company or changing its stance on scooters.
“It’s too early to say,” he said. “I think, obviously, there’s still a desire on our end to have some sort of alternative transportation available. I think we’ll take a step back and reevaluate everything. We’ll start having those internal discussions soon.”
Usry said he could not comment on the matter, and Lime’s media relations did not provide any further information on the company’s decision to withdraw by press time.
Letter: Read a letter from Lime to Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill here.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.