"We should have done better," Lime's global head of operations and strategy, Wayne Ting, says.
He's talking about the braking glitch that hit earlier this year, which caused 30 injuries and led to the company's e-scooters being pulled from Auckland and Dunedin streets for a week.
Speaking exclusively to the Herald, Ting said his company had introduced new safety procedures following the braking issue - a number of which are being piloted here before a worldwide rollout.
"We didn't meet the bar that we would set for ourselves on safety [but] one of the good things that came out of it is, we took a step back and said 'what are the things we want to do systemically - from a hardware perspective, from a rider-feedback perspective, from an operations perspective?' And I'd say this is our top priority globally," Ting said.
"We put an enormous amount of resources into fixing our operations, top-to-bottom."
One of the new measures is that Lime scooters are now being brought in for checking once a week, regardless of whether they have an issue. Previously, scooters were only brought in for a check if a problem had been flagged, or they had received a series of one-star reviews.
The seven-day testing is being trialled in NZ with an eye on rolling it out worldwide, Ting said.
"Lime visually inspects every vehicle in the New Zealand fleet, and any scooter that has not been to the warehouse for six days is issued a ticket so that the team can retrieve it and perform all safety and quality assurance checks, including structural testing. Any scooter that has even the slightest hint of structural imperfection is retired from circulation and replaced with a new scooter. Juicers are also required to report any scooter that has signs of damage to the Lime operations team for collection.
"Lime also recently started testing a new system to more rigorously and proactively inspect the scooters, which now creates retrieval and repair requirements for vehicles with 100 or more trips and 50+ trips since the last completed repair ticket."
Dedicated trust & safety team
Another change "as a result of what happened here in Zealand is that we set up a permanent trust and safety team that looks at all of our trust and safety issues globally", Ting said.
Rather than being a bolt-on to people's existing roles, "this team's job is 100 per cent trying to figure out, 'Are there any safety issues?'"
Another Lime world-first, being trialled in Auckland is Lime ambassadors, "They wear lime green and they're helping and teaching local riders on how to ride safely and helping them follow the rules that I know Auckland City Council takes very seriously."
The ambassadors are designed to supplement the ongoing series of Lime safety events, which began before brake-gate.
The Lime ambassadors are also identifiable because they are the only people outside of Lime PR material who wear helmets (which are recommended by Lime, but not a legal requirement for e-scooter riders in NZ).
Despite their rarity, a helmet is a good idea, whatever e-gadget you're riding. To wit, Lime is making 250,000 helmets available free as part of a broader $3 million safety programme (which, again, pre-dates the braking issue).
To grab one of the free helmets, attend a Lime safety event or send a message to its customer services team.
Another measure: where Lime previously collected data from its scooters every half-minute, "we've improved that to half a second", Ting said.
The higher-frequency data collection is part of a series of measures designed to collect data faster, which will also include faster and more proactive communication with riders. A beef with a number of the braking-issue victims spoken to by the Herald was that they did not receive any communication from Lime until their accidents were featured in the media.
Ting said one factor was that it took time to establish what factors were to blame, from possible technical issues to the weather and conditions to rider error.
Now, "We're sending a signal back to a database so we know at all times what's happening on the ground with the scooter and, if an incident happens, what exactly happened - was the brake applied? Did it hit a bump? Was it going down hill? What was the speed? And that allows us much greater visibility into the scooter," Ting said.
What went wrong
Ting said his company took the braking issue, "very, very seriously", as illustrated by the changes it has implemented since.
But he also emphasises that it affected, "a very small fraction of our scooters, less than 0.0095 per cent, there would be excessive braking - which sometimes resulted in riders being thrown off".
Ting said the firmware bug struck when a scooter was being ridden downhill at speed and it hit a bump.
The firmware - or the "brain of the scooter" could then "misinterpret what was happening and in very rare instances send that excessive brake signal - which then resulted in a very few instances where some riders were thrown off the/their scooter", Ting said.
Ting says there have been no reports of any braking issues since a firmware upgrade in February.
The fact it only happened to a fraction of riders is cold comfort to 27-year-old Liam Thompson, who broke his jaw after being thrown over the handlebar of his Lime scooter after its brakes locked up.
But Lime says incidents around the braking issue, and accidents in general, have to be seen in context.
"One of the unfortunate challenges is that any sort of transportation hardware has inherent risks - and we're going to face other challenges in the future. This is again true with any other form of transportation," Ting said.
The Lime exec says statistics show scooters are safer than other forms of transportation - so if there were more scooters (and Lime wants thousands more on Auckland streets), there would be fewer injuries overall.
Gen 3: Bigger, safer Limes on the way
Lime is currently trialling its "Generation 3" scooter, which it says will be better in several areas.
"We have invested in bigger wheels, better suspension, stronger brakes. We have ensured that the quality of the stem is made with high-quality metal so that it withstands all sorts of terrain," Ting said.
There will also be a larger display, which will deliver context-sensitive messages - including likely speed and parking limits for certain areas (newcomer Wave has put a voluntary speed limit in place in some locations).
He emphasised that Lime designs its own scooters, and said that was a point of difference that helped bolster safety features.
"We have a team of 100 hardware developers whose focus is around how do we ensure that we have the best scooters on the road and that's from the perspective of not just capabilities of and comfort, it's about safety," Ting said.
The braking issues saw Lime draft in a third party, Exponent, to review its technology and processes and to independently brief Auckland Council.
Gen 3.0 was already in the pipeline when Exponent was appointed but, again, Ting said it's tightened up processes as the new model looms.
"The hope is to bring the Generation 3.0 to Auckland very soon - I hope this year," Ting said.
Newcomer Wave called Lime's NZ presence "bloated," but in terms of smooth operations and safety, more staff is better.
Lime's current line-up:
• Auckland: 58 staff including 30 mechanics.
• Wellington: 20 staff - 10 mechanics in Hutt Valley
• Christchurch: 30 staff - 16 mechanics
• Dunedin: 22 staff - 11 mechanics
• 483 juicers (contractors who charger and distribute scooters) nationwide.