Lime halts scooter service in Switzerland after possible software glitch throws users off mid-ride

Just as on-demand electric scooters are trying to pick up speed in Europe, one of the scooter market’s most ambitious startups has halted operations in one country after its e-scooters started halting mid-ride, throwing off and injuring passengers.

Lime, the Uber-backed bike and scooter rental company that is reportedly raising money at between a $2 billion and $3 billion valuation, has pulled its full fleet of scooters in Switzerland, in the cities of Basel and Zurich, for safety checks after multiple reports of people injuring themselves after their scooters braked abruptly while in use.

The company sent out a notice to users — presented in screenshots below, in German, with the full text translated underneath that — noting that it is currently investigating whether the malfunction is due to a software fault, where an update of the software causes a scooter inadvertently to reboot during a ride, thus engaging the anti-theft immobilization system.

To make up for the disruption in service, it’s offering users a 15-minute credit that they can use when the service is restored, but it doesn’t give an indication of when that might be.

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The text reads as follows:

By now you surely have heard from the media that we have taken all Lime scooters into our workshops and have temporarily paused the service.
We have been made aware of cases in which users report that during their rides, sudden brake maneuvers take place, leading to crashes. The security of our users is our top priority and this is why we decided at the start of this week to pull in all devices and do a thorough security and quality check on them.
The investigation is ongoing. After first hints, we are currently examining whether a software update could be causing a reboot during the ride, triggering the theft protection. We have already taken measures to ensure this will never happen again. Nonetheless, we are testing each device thoroughly to ensure that no software or hardware issues remain.
We are optimistic that we will soon again be operating on the streets of Zurich and Basel and apologize for the disruption of the service. To make up for it, we offer you a free 15 minute ride with code “LIME-ON-SCHWEIZ”. As soon as we are back again.
We will keep you updated about the developments. Thank you for your understanding.
With lime green greetings
Your Lime Switzerland Team

We have reached out to Lime for more details and will update this post as we learn more.

The cessation of service comes after reports over the past several months detailed how users have been injured after their Lime scooters stopped abruptly. In November, a doctor broke his elbow after the speedometer on his vehicle failed, the brakes kicked in, and he was thrown into the air. (Fortunately, this happened in front of the hospital, where he also worked.)

Another rider dislocated his shoulder after falling over his Lime scooter’s handle bars when travelling at about 25 km/h (about 15 mph). A third suffered cuts and bruises in a similar incident to the other two: abrupt braking while travelling.

Lime launched e-scooter services in several cities across Europe last summer, starting in Paris with aggressive ambitions to expand its business to 25 cities in Europe by the end of 2018.

In Switzerland Lime has (had?) about 550 scooters in operation. But overall, Lime hasn’t quite hit its wider regional target. It is currently live in 18 cities in Europe, and not all of those have electric scooters.

In the UK, for example, Lime has had a limited roll out of electric bikes and there are no plans at the moment to add scooters.

Part of the reason in the UK is because that particular mode of transportation is facing some regulatory hurdles: technically they are classified as vehicles, and therefore illegal to drive without licenses on public roads. On the other hand, there are plenty being sold and in use by private individuals who may or may not have the right credentials to use them, and regulations may get revisited.

One of Lime’s biggest competitors, Bird, launched e-scooters in London last year, but it has been a very limited roll out, on private land on the Olympic campus.

In other markets, Lime originally launched scooters but has since had to halt its business. In December, Lime, along with rivals Wind and Voi, were all ordered to halt e-scooter operations in Madrid, after the city determined that they were posing a safety hazard after a series of accidents, including a death, amid other safety concerns.

We’ll update this post as we learn more. Overall, however, the development does not paint a very positive picture.

Even before we’ve seen a mass launch of actual services, the e-scooter market in Europe is already very crowded with hopeful players. Alongside Lime and Bird flying over from the US, there are also homegrown startups like TaxifyDott, Wind and Voi, as well as transportation behemoths like VW, all entering the fray.

All fine and well, I suppose — let the best man win and all that — but seeing early versions of these services getting banned by authorities or halted by the companies themselves over accidents does make one wonder if safety is getting compromised in the name of aggressive competition in new, unchartered areas of “disruptive” tech.