Lime timeline

• Jan 2017: Founded in San Francisco by Toby Sun & Brad Bao

• March 2017: Sun & Bao raise US$12m from Netscape founder Marc Andreessen

• June 2017: First service launched, in Greensboro, North Carolina, with e-scooters that cost US$1 to unlock then 15c a minute and e-bikes at 5c/minute

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• July 2018: Raises US$335m in July 2018 in funding round supported by Google Ventures and Uber & various VCs; enters software partnership with Uber

• Oct 2018: Trial begins in Auckland and Christchurch, with Upper & Lower Hutt & Dunedin later added

• Oct 2018: Lime Pods (cars) launch in Seattle at 30c per minute

• January 2019: Lime says it's hit the millionth ride milestone in NZ. Worldwide, it is now in 100 cites, and valued at around US$2b

• March 31: Lime's trial licence in Auckland due to expire

The shape of a possible deal between Lime and Auckland Council is starting to emerge - one that could set a template for the e-scooter company's negotiations with other local bodies.

Councillor Chris Darby - who chairs the planning committee that will be instrumental in deciding Lime's fate after its trial mobile-trading licence expires at the end of March - has proposed the idea of a "Lime levy".

Darby has not put a figure on the mooted e-scooter tax, but the Herald understands that a 5c levy has been discussed between Lime and the council, which could come on top of the 60c per minute charged by Lime. It's not yet clear whether that would be 5c a minute, per ride, or charged on some other basis.

Read more: Lime expands its ambition to cars

Lime co-founder and chief executive Toby Sun says he's "very open to the idea". He says it is yet to be decided if Lime would absorb the fee, or pass it on to riders.

So far, only a token amount of money has exchanged hands. Lime paid the council $3326 for its initial trial licence to January 14 and $2644 to extend it until March 31. The council does not receive any share of the company's income or profits.

Both Darby and Lime want to see any Lime levy money earmarked for improving cycleways - the better to get e-scooters off footpaths where they have caused so much near-miss mayhem.

"We need to get Limes off the pavement," Sun says.

China-raised Toby Sun (pictured at Britomart) completed an MBA at UC Berkeley then worked as a global product launcher for Pepsi's Gatorade division before co-founding Lime. Photo / Doug Sherring.
China-raised Toby Sun (pictured at Britomart) completed an MBA at UC Berkeley then worked as a global product launcher for Pepsi's Gatorade division before co-founding Lime. Photo / Doug Sherring.

The trouble is that, as the law stands, it's illegal to ride a Lime in a cycleway. That problem could easily be solved. There is a widespread consensus that it would be sensible to allow e-scooters to share space with cyclists, and Transport Minister Phil Twyford is open to a law change.

But the lack of cycleways is a bigger sticking point.

"We encourage people to ride off the footpaths, but we also realise some people ride on the footpaths because there is not enough infrastructure to ride on the road," said Sun. "We're actively working with the city to see how we can adjust this from an education perspective and an infrastructure perspective to build more bike lanes." If a levy is introduced, that would help.

Auckland no. 3 on Lime's top 100

Sun was in town on Thursday to celebrate his company's millionth ride in New Zealand. In fact, since it launched in Auckland and Christchurch in October, and expanded into Upper and Lower Hutt and Dunedin in the New Year, it has now clocked up 1.2 million rides.

In Lime's world, Auckland is a star. The ride-sharing company is now in more than 100 cities. Auckland is its third biggest market, with the 1000 or so scooters on its trial licence now racking up 7500 rides per day.

Throughout New Zealand, more than 250,000 people have registered for a Lime account, Sun says, with 60 per cent (150,000) of those in Auckland.

Sun also met with Auckland mayor Phil Goff.

"The city and Lime share the same vision: to reduce congestion; to make transportation from A to B easier and more affordable. We talked about how to make the programme better and more affordable. It went very well," Sun says.

Goff told the Herald shortly after the meeting, "I welcome Lime's investment in Auckland, commitment to ongoing safety campaigns and innovation to increase safety features on the scooters."

Lime's Gen-3 scooter, demo'd at CES in January, features larger wheels, 20 per cent more range, and a colour screen that can send messages to the rider. A mass rollout will begin in a few months.
Lime's Gen-3 scooter, demo'd at CES in January, features larger wheels, 20 per cent more range, and a colour screen that can send messages to the rider. A mass rollout will begin in a few months.

Councillor Darby - a keen Lime user - is boy-ish in his enthusiasm for e-scooters, but says his committee must also balance safety concerns and that he'll wait for reports from AT and the council's licensing division before making a decision on Lime's bid for a permanent licence.

The cost of Lime injuries has been a key focus of critics. There have been 655 e-scooter ACC injury claims since they launched in Auckland in October last year and later elsewhere. The cost of injuries to date is $228,364.

Lime's government relations manager Mitchell Price says his company could potentially come to the party on ACC costs. If a per-ride Lime levy was introduced, some of it could be potentially carved off to the state insurer, he says. But there's a catch. Lime would need certainty about its long-term trading licence before it committed to any such deal.

10,000 Limes for Auckland

In interviews early in the two-year-old Lime's life, Sun talked about an ideal ratio of 100 citizens to each scooter, implying 15,000 Limes on the streets of Auckland.

But this week he said he now favoured "a more measured approach. "If we see enough support to go over 10,000, we may go there. But if we see enough utilisation at 5000 or 3000, we could also stop there," he says, noting that in some Chinese cities, over-supply has seen ride-share e-scooters pile up on street corners.

The Herald understands 20,000 Limes is the figure that has been discussed with the council for a permanent licence, to give the company flexibility.

Short term, Lime is keen to double the number of e-scooters on its trial from 1000 to 2000 as soon as possible, so it can put 1000 into outer suburbs for the remaining weeks of its trial period without cannibalising its supply in the CBD and central suburbs. Sun says 1000 e-scooters leaves central Auckland "undersupplied" as it is.

It's a sign of Lime's financial muscle that it has 1000 Limes in a Kingsland warehouse, ready to go, just in case the council says yes.

Potential e-scooter rivals Onzo (which is homegrown and best known for its rideshare bikes) and the Australian-based Wave could have both launched trials in November, but they chose to sit out the period to see how Lime fares before making a financial commitment.

Open to speed limit - in places

Goff has floated the idea of a 10km/h Lime speed limit (the e-scooters can hit 27km/h on a flat, or more downhill).

Sun says he opposes a blanket speed limit.

"We think a speed limitation is important in some areas with a very, very high density, but also we think having enough speed for people to get from A to B fast is also important," he said.

He added that sometimes Lime riders need to generate extra speed to get momentum to tackle a hill.

But again, a compromise seems in reach.

"We're working on the solutions. In some of the markets where we operate in the US, we do have an area where we limit the speed as per the request of the city - and we can explore that option for Auckland potentially for selected areas."

It could be that Lime's technology enforces a 10km/h speed limit in shared spaces such as the Britomart precinct, for example.

"We're keen to work with the city to find out those areas where we could potentially limit the speed," Sun says.

One Lime manager told the Herald there needed to be a degree of onus on the user. Toyota doesn't get blamed if the driver of a Corolla gets a speeding ticket, for example.

Sun, however, was more diplomatic, saying the solution lies partly with Lime's technology, partly through Lime and the council co-operating on better infrastructure such as more cycleways and partly with the rider - encouraged by education events such as the one Lime recently held at Eden Park.

Mandatory helmets?

Goff has suggested a second legal tweak: mandatory helmets.

Lime says it's up to local lawmakers to set the rules. It will follow them. Currently, Lime encourages users to wear helmets, but there is no legal requirement and it's rare to see one outside the company's promotional material.

Sun says his company will ramp up its safety efforts regardless of whether there's any law change. He said Lime had given away tens of thousands of helmets in the US. It could do the same here, or import an a concept from an e-bike programme in Melbourne that has seen helmets distributed for a token A$5.

Once scooter issues are sorted, Lime is keen to bring its "Pods" - otherwise known as cars - to Auckland.

"We want people to use micro-mobility [scooters and bikes] in high density areas and car-share or 'Pod-share' for the suburbs," Sun said.