Gadgets

Electric Scooter Charging Is A Cutthroat Business, And Lime Wants To Fix That

Charging the batteries of shareable electric scooters overnight — the latest entry in our metastasizing gig economy — can be a bit of a thankless task. The pay is minimal, the scooters can be hard to find, and freelancers often complain about unsafe conditions. Lime, one of the main players in the shareable e-scooter business, is looking to bring some order to the chaos.

The San Francisco-based startup is testing a new feature that allows its workforce of “juicers” to reserve a scooter before scooping it up for charging. In this way, juicers can claim a scooter before arriving at its location. Previously, collecting scooters for charging (which Lime calls “harvesting”) has been on a first come, first serve basis, and it could only be done once the juicer arrived at the scooter’s location and unlocked it with the app.

Lime is beta-testing the Reserve feature in Oakland, California, as well as Auckland, New Zealand, and Brisbane, Australia, with the aim of quickly rolling it out to more markets.

Bird and Lime, the two most dominant startups in the fast-growing (but still money-losing) dockless scooter game, both rely on independent contractors to collect and charge its scooters each night. Other companies, like Uber-owned Jump, use full-time employees to manage the ground operations.

Both Bird and Lime have similar models where they pay you a base pay of $3 to $5 for charging and releasing each scooter. This pay will vary based on how long it’s been since the scooter was charged and when the scooter became available. For Bird, the pay can vary between $3 to $20 per scooter.

The task usually involves locating scooters with depleted batteries on the app, piling them into a car or truck, and taking them home for overnight charging. Chargers need to purchase power supplies and adapters to complete the task.

But that job is much harder than it sounds. Chargers complain that a scooter’s location on the app doesn’t always correspond to its location in real life. Some people have been known to hoard scooters in an attempt to defraud the scooter companies, and criminals have used scooters to lure enterprising freelancers into unsafe areas to rob them or worse, according to sources.

Will Lime’s new reserve feature address all these problems? No, but it will certainly address some of the concerns stemming from the juicer community.

The CDC is studying electric scooter injuries for the first time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is examining the rise of injuries related to shareable electric scooters, according to CNBC. The study was launched at the request of the Public Health and Transportation departments in Austin, Texas, where local health officials are seeing more injuries related to scooters offered by popular ride-sharing companies Bird and Lime.

There have been other studies into the spike in scooter-related injuries, but the Austin study is the first to be overseen by federal epidemiologists. Austin Public Health is working with three CDC researchers to examine severe injuries that occurred in the city from September to November 2018. They will be interviewing people who were injured by or while riding an e-scooter “to learn about environmental factors and clinical information,” a spokesperson for the Austin Health Department said. The findings will be publicly available in the spring.

Jeff Taylor, manager of the Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Unit with Austin Public Health, said both agencies have completed collecting data and are currently in the process of summarizing various reports.

”There’s a perception that scooter-related injuries occur at night. Well that’s not true,” Taylor told CNBC. “Our study will show they occur during all times of the day. People may also perceive there’s typically a car involved. But our study finds most of the time the rider may hit a bump in the road or they simply lose their balance.”

The rise in e-scooters has prompted some researchers to take a closer look at some of the risk factors. A group of UCLA scientists found that at least 249 people visited two Southern California emergency rooms with broken bones, bumps, bruises, and head injuries — including brain bleeds — from scooter accidentsWhile most of the injuries were from ridingthe scooters, some pedestrians were injured when scooter riders crashed into them, and others tripped over scooters while walking.

Scooter-related injuries rose during a pilot period in Portland, Oregon, but most injuries seen by emergency rooms across the city were not severe. E-scooter injury visits accounted for about 5 percent of total traffic crash injury visits during the four-month pilot period. An investigation by Consumer Reports found at least 1,500 people across the country injured as a result of e-scooters in 2017.

Both Lime and Bird have said they welcome the study and will work with CDC researchers in any way they can. Supporters of scooter-sharing will often point out that the number of people injured in scooter-related incidents pale in comparison with the number of people who are injured and killed by motor vehicles each year. A new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association determined that about 6,227 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2018 — a 4 percent increase over 2017 and the highest mortality rate since 1990.

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