LimeBike's France's director Arthur-Louis Jacquier riding a LimeBike Scooter on their Paris launch day, Friday Benoit Tessier/Reuters

LimeBike’s fleet arrives at an opportune time, with the full blessing of city hall—but cultural and logistical hurdles could still pose a challenge.

Is Europe about to catch the scooter-sharing bug? Companies renting out these little two-wheelers have been a huge, unexpectedly fast-growing phenomenon in North America, but dockless scooters remain very rare in Europe, with only a few cities testing out limited fleets. That changed on Friday, however, when LimeBike launched its scooter-share system in Paris.

With several hundred vehicles up for grabs, the company is certainly taking the new market seriously. But will a transit solution that’s performed well in American cities transplant well to a city like Paris, with its very different transit and street culture?

On some counts, the concept might actually thrive. In fact, LimeBike has already adapted its model a little to suit local conditions. Gone are the freelance contract-workers-cum-bounty-hunters who, in the U.S., hunt down, recharge, and relocate scooters. Instead, LimeBike will employ a 40-strong team of staff to find and clear all vehicles off Paris’s streets at 9pm each evening. A professionalized service team is one of the cornerstones of the company’s attempts to reduce vandalism. This may mean that LimeBike gets a more even distribution of scooters across the city, at least in the mornings before users start relocating them.

The fact that you need neither a driver’s license nor a helmet to use a scooter-share vehicle in France should also help make uptake a little smoother. There’s also the long-standing habit of using mopeds, which should make the idea of low-powered motor vehicles less of a conceptual leap for locals. Finally, LimeBike has smoothed its path by making sure it has Paris City Hall’s full blessing, hopefully avoiding the wrangles that led to its banishment from San Francisco.

Recent transit failures in Paris could also blow a little wind under LimeBike’s wings, at least in the short-term. The city’s Velib’ bikeshare scheme, long admired as a pioneer in its field, is currently in disarray, its docks having widely malfunctioned since it was taken over by a new contractor last year. Meanwhile, the city is pulling out of its Autolib’service—an electric car-share scheme that’s been hemorrhaging money for some time. There’s no guarantee that frustrated bikeshare users will be tempted shift to scooters, but a window has opened up for LimeBike to do better against beleaguered competitors.

Scooter share’s success is by no means a shoe-in, though. By Parisian standards, LimeBike’s costs, while not exorbitant, aren’t exactly a great deal. The scooters have an unlock fee of €1 per ride and a cost of €0.15 for every minute thereafter, giving a rental cost of €5.50 ($6.40) for 30 minutes, which is probably the upper limit of a single journey. That’s similar to what scooter shares charge in the U.S., but not exactly a steal in a city where a single metro trip ticket costs €1.90 (or €1.49 if bought in a batch of 10). Add to this the fact that last-mile travel is less of an issue in Inner Paris, thanks to very short distances between the stations of a very comprehensive metro network. Taken together, scooter share looks a little less indispensable.

So far, it’s also hard to see where any volume of scooters would go without endangering their riders. On the road they’ll have to weave among fast-moving vehicles. On the frequently crowded sidewalks they might risk some serious resentment from pedestrians who feel that the only wheels that belong on the sidewalk are wheelchairs and mobility scooters. Out of use, parked scooters may take up much less space than bikes, but any spare room in a busy, dense city like Paris is at a premium, and new occupants are sure to be noticed—and possibly resented.

Finally, there’s the big V: vandalism. LimeBike’s scooters should be largely sheltered from outright theft by the fact that riders need to use a credit or debit card to unlock one. They are, however, neither alarmed nor heavy.

The French in general tend to be on the militant side if they feel a private company is encroaching on their space or convenience, and it wouldn’t take much to toss a scooter over a bridge into a watery grave in the Seine or Canal Saint Martin. If the scooters end up cluttering the footpath or generally getting in the way—without being seen to solve a major problem—their days on Paris’s streets could well be numbered.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo-illustration of several big-box retail stores.
    Equity

    After the Retail Apocalypse, Prepare for the Property Tax Meltdown

    Big-box retailers nationwide are slashing their property taxes through a legal loophole known as "dark store theory." For the towns that rely on that revenue, this could be a disaster.

  2. A photo of a resident of Community First Village, a tiny-home community for people who were once living in homelessness, outside of Austin, Texas.!
    Design

    Austin's Fix for Homelessness: Tiny Houses, and Lots of Neighbors

    Community First! Village’s model for ending homelessness emphasizes the stabilizing power of social connections.

  3. A photo of a mural in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
    Life

    Stop Complaining About Your Rent and Move to Tulsa, Suggests Tulsa

    In an effort to beef up the city’s tech workforce, the George Kaiser Family Foundation is offering $10,000, free rent, and other perks to remote workers who move to Tulsa for a year.

  4. A man walks down the Zeedjik.
    Equity

    How a Dutch Housing Agency Rescued an Amsterdam Street From the Drug Trade

    Frustrated by rampant heroin trade, residents of the street Zeedijk forced a public-private real-estate partnership to protect the street while preventing community displacement.

  5. The charred remnants of a building in Paradise, California, destroyed by the Camp Fire.
    Environment

    How California Cities Can Tackle Wildfire Prevention

    Wildfires like Camp and Tubbs are blazing with greater intensity and frequency, due to factors including climate change and urban sprawl. How can cities stay safe?