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Lime to stop bike-share operations in the Boston region

The San Francisco outfit says it will instead double down on e-scooters

A Lime e-bike. Getty Images

Another Boston-area bike-share system has stopped spinning.

San Francisco-based Lime said Thursday it will not renew its contract with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council to provide dockless bikes to several towns and cities in the region, including Arlington, Chelsea, and Watertown. Instead, it’s choosing to focus on electric scooters in the Boston area and nationally.

“We at Lime are grateful for MAPC’s leadership and for each participating community that helped prove dockless mobility has a vital role to play in addressing our congestion and climate crises,” the company wrote in a letter to MAPC, which it shared with Curbed Boston.

“We are thrilled that together we further normalized cycling as a viable transportation option in metro Boston. Our shared learnings should empower communities to further prioritize building the infrastructure that existing riders need and is crucial to entice new people out of their cars.”

Before it went on a winter hiatus late last year, Lime was operating 2,000 Lime bikes in 16 Boston-area towns and cities: Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Milton, Needham, Newton, Quincy, Revere, Waltham, Watertown, and Winthrop. The company provided the bikes for free and charged users.

Lime had debuted in the region in April 2018 with around 1,500 conventional bikes that users could unlock and lock via a Lime app. The debut came at a time when bike-shares in general looked likely to flood the region and permanently alter its streetscape, not least by way of dockless bikes turning up on random corners and racks.

But, since early 2018, the bike-shares Ofo, Spin, and Ant have either disappeared or scrapped plans to start running in the region—and now Lime is gone, leaving Bluebikes as the region’s only major bike-share. It operates some 3,500 conventional bikes via 325 stations. Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, and Everett own Bluebikes, which operates year-round.

Lime said that any Boston-area users who still have a balance with the company can use that balance in another market that Lime services, or contact the company for a refund.

MAPC emailed late Thursday to say that it was working with Newton, Watertown, Arlington, Chelsea, and Revere to expand Bluebikes to those municipalities. The others are looking at the possibility of partnering with other operators, MAPC said, though most would require a subsidy from the cities and towns themselves or from a sponsor (Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts sponsors Bluebikes, for instance).

Lime foreshadowed its latest move with a decision last spring to phase out its conventional bikes and replace them with a fleet of battery-powered, pedal-assist electric bikes that could go as fast as 14.8 miles per hour. The company says it’s now focusing exclusively on the scooter version of such vehicles.

“Lime remains fully committed to innovative mobility options and we are currently working with state leaders on Beacon Hill to legalize electric scooters,” Lime said in the same letter about pulling its bikes from the region. “Over the past year, Lime has focused on launch in and growing our scooter fleets in the U.S., which have been very popular in cities across the globe. Our recent scooter pilot in Brookline proved that the same excitement exists here.”

Lime released data on that eight-month pilot in October. The company said its e-scooters had by then replaced at least 50,000 automobile trips in Brookline. The company also said that a survey showed that 47.5 percent of Lime e-scooter riders had used the vehicles to get to or from public transit within the previous month, and that just over 30 percent had used an e-scooter rather than a private or hired car.

Nearly all of the survey’s 173 respondents wanted Brookline to make the e-scooter share permanent, Lime said.

E-scooters face regulatory hurdles in Massachusetts, however, due to decades-old laws restricting mopeds. Right now, e-scooters are few and far between in the Boston region—Ford subsidiary Spin operates several dozen in Salem with Zagster—whatever their potential popularity.