Lime scooters return to Oxford

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Photo by Abigail Kemper

A masked, but unhelmeted scooter rider on the Church Street sidewalk Thursday.

By Abigail Kemper

After being pulled off the streets in March due to concerns about spreading COVID-19, Lime scooters have returned to Oxford as of Sept. 18.

Once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined the virus was spread through close, personal contact, the San Francisco-based Lime worked to get the single-person electric scooters back on the streets in communities around the country. Russell Murphy, a director of communication for Lime, said that Oxford has a contract for 200 scooters. 

Users rent the scooters using a smartphone app and can ride them anywhere within the Oxford zone designated by Lime — generally the Mile Square area centered around Uptown. Once a user reaches their destination and parks the scooter, the rental charges stop and the vehicle is available for the next customer who comes along. Users can find the locations of scooters on the smartphone app.

Students rent scooters from designated parking areas
A Lime user properly parks her scooter in a designated spot Uptown on Thursday afternoon. Photo by Abigail Kemper

Under the company’s agreement with Oxford, the scooters are gathered up by 9 p.m. by Lime employees known as chargers, who take them home and recharge their batteries. The scooters are then placed back in designated areas around Uptown the next morning.

These are central areas with high foot traffic and places with a demonstrated level of demand,” Murphy said.  

Seth Cropenbaker, assistant to the Oxford city manager, is the city’s designated coordinator with the company. He said the company has instituted new cleaning protocols out of concerns about COVID-19. The chargers clean the major touch point of scooters every night during charging and when they are re-parked. Employees repark a scooter if it is found incorrectly parked or is left in a low-traffic area. 

“They do have a pretty comprehensive cleaning policy that they go through every night,” Cropenbaker said. “They estimate those are being cleaned 2-3 times a day outside of the nightly cleaning, any time (they) repark them.” 

Cropenbaker said Lime’s transparency has made the transition of supplying scooters much smoother. The company supplies its local staff with proper cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.

“What I do appreciate about lime is that they’ve been pretty forthcoming about cleaning policies and their procedures,” Cropenbaker said. “They’ve been great at communication.” 

Oxford Police Lt. Lara Fening said sanitizing is also a job for the riders. 

“There’s gotta be some personal responsibility,” Fening said. “If it worries you, bring a wipe.”

Desirae Henson, an Oxford resident who does not have a car, said the scooters are great for getting around in the city. She said she sanitizes her scooter before each ride. 

“I’m responsible with it, I’ll take sanitizer wipes to wipe them off before I touch them,” Henson said. 

One major community concern with the scooters is incorrect parking. Some users leave them strewn in the middle of sidewalks after a ride. Oxford resident and university staff member, Andor Kiss, said accessibility is an issue. 

Scooters are often parked incorrectly, like this one
Improper parking is a frequent complaint about the electric scooters around Oxford. This one was left in a tree near the corner of East Vine Street and North University Avenue. Photo by Ally Gallagher

“They become a hazard…” Kiss said. “It’s akin to elementary school kids dumping their bicycles wherever they’re done riding. (Proper parking) would alleviate a lot of the negative feelings that people have towards them.”  

Cropenbaker said scooters are supposed to be parked off walkways. If a user is Uptown, there are two parking stations: one near the Uptown park, the other near Kofenya coffee shop. Each spot can accommodate several scooters. 

Lime also recommends riders wear helmets, a caution not frequently followed in Oxford.

Fening also works to create accessible walkways. Less than a week since the Limes have returned, there has been an issue with an employee putting scooters out in the middle of the sidewalk for users. Cropenbaker has communicated with Lime to educate the employees on Oxford protocol. 

Lime scooter parked improperly on the sidewalk of Main Street
A Lime scooter that was just left improperly on the Main Street sidewalk. Photo by Abigail Kemper

“There’s a learning curve oftentimes in the beginning of the semesters, or when there is a new employee working for Lime,” Fening said. “I think we’re patient. It gets better as time goes on.”

Kiss also said that riders need to respect the traffic laws just as car drivers do. When users fly through intersections, car drivers have to react quickly. 

“It’s extremely stressful for drivers,” Kiss said. “It just creates animosity, which doesn’t have to happen. If that wasn’t the case, I think people would be much more welcoming of them.” 

Fening said all users should be aware of the rules. If a Lime user is caught disobeying road laws, they can face a traffic ticket for $165. She also said users should know that scooters are prohibited on Uptown sidewalks.

“In general, we’re just asking for consideration in the operation and the parking of the scooters,” Fening said.