Lime lawlessness is testing my patience

A First World Problem, yes, but damn those e-scooters are a pain in the ass.

I’m taking a break from politics and social issues this week to rave and rant about a bit of a First World Problem. It’s an issue that’s been irking me since they first made their appearance on the Montreal landscape: those dreaded Lime e-scooters.

This rant has been simmering since the dockless e-scooter pilot-project began barely a month ago. Almost immediately, I noticed Limes littering the city’s sidewalks, streets and entranceways. I saw them — either personally, or via other perplexed Montrealers who posted images on social media — abandoned in the most bizarre and often hazardous locations. I’ve almost never seen them parked in the officially designated parking “spaces” (if one can call a painted outline of where a Lime should be, but almost never is, a “parking space”) and almost always scattered in people’s way.

In this past week alone, I’ve seen Limes in metro stations, in front of parked cars, behind parked cars, hovering in front of Bixi stands and precariously parked on heavily sloped streets like Atwater Avenue, making me wonder what would happen if the brakes suddenly released and Limes started careening into traffic. I’ve seen Limes on the ground blocking entire sidewalks while frustrated parents with baby strollers tried to find a way to manoeuvre around them.

Some people even decided it would be fun to chuck a Lime e-scooter in the Lachine Canal. This does not surprise me in the least. Firstly, because I have been paddling in those waters for close to 20 years and I have seen more than my share of bicycles and supermarket shopping carts sharing space with the fish that Parks Canada insists are safe to eat and I will personally never consume. And secondly, because I’ve seen images of entire groups of rusted-up Lime e-scooters (and their lithium batteries) being retrieved from the Seine in Paris. Why would Montreal be any different?

To add insult to injury, even though stricter provincial regulations demand Lime users be over 18 and wear a helmet, I routinely see people who are clearly underage riding them, and I have yet to see anyone on a Lime wearing a helmet. I’ve also heard plenty of stories of people ending up in the ER with head injuries and fractures. At least 11 people have died in the U.S. since 2018 while riding an e-scooter, according to the Associated Press.

It’s Lime lawlessness, and if you can’t tell by now, I’m not impressed. And these are my impressions with only 200 Limes let loose in the city. Can you imagine the chaos if we had allowed more? For the record, if I appear less critical of Jump e-bikes it’s because they have proven to be less of an issue, from what I can tell — although I also don’t like their random visual pollution and the fact that many riders are locking them up and leaving them almost anywhere on public property.

Thankfully, the city of Montreal is not taking this lying down. After failing to fine a single user for parking violations, it’s finally cracking down on Lime and Jump e-scooter and e-bike users who don’t comply with city regulations.  Most importantly, it’s cracking down on the fleet operators.

From now on, Montreal will fine riders $50 for parking rented e-scooters outside of the 239 designated street parking spots and electric bikes outside of the city-sanctioned bike stands. If the city’s Mobility Squad don’t see the user who is responsible for abandoning the e-scooter or e-bike where it shouldn’t be, the company that owns them will be fined $100.

“In one month, we’ve seen too little improvement not to make those changes that we’re proposing,” said Eric Caldwell, responsible for the city’s Urban Planning and Mobility.

“The whole system is based on the responsibility of the operator,” Caldwell added. “We don’t want to be in the business of controlling electric scooters at the City of Montreal.”

He’s right. The city shouldn’t be wasting its finite resources trying to regulate and enforce the misuse of our public spaces by a for-profit company. It’s up to them to figure it out, get repeatedly fined if they don’t and ultimately be forced to put an end to their pilot project if they can’t devise a way to improve the situation.

Lime has issued a statement saying it’s “eager to continue partnering” with Montreal because the e-scooters have been popular here and the rollout successful. Of course they’re eager to continue partnering with the city! There’s money to be made… But it shouldn’t be made at residents’ expense.

Last week, the company sent out a mass email to users urging them to contact the city and tell them how much they appreciate the electric vehicles. They know the writing is on the wall and that once the pilot project ends on Nov. 15, it’s then up to the city to decide whether it will renew Lime’s permit next spring.

I’m all for any interesting initiatives that help alleviate road congestion and offer alternate solutions to cars. We need to radically change the way we think about public transit and foster an environment where attractive alternatives exist. With REM construction revving up in the next few years, our metro system is going to be overloaded in ways we probably haven’t seen yet and anything that can help alleviate that congestion should be welcome.

I think the city had the best of intentions in bringing e-scooters and e-bikes in because the current administration has always made it clear that green solutions to mobility are part of their overall agenda. I also think that they’re smart enough to see when things are not working and react quickly to rectify the situation. Considering the intense criticism that’s been leveled against the company by residents and how displeased and out of patience the city administration seems to be right now, Lime management knows the jig is up. If significant improvements don’t take place soon, they won’t be coming back — and I for one will not miss them at all. ■