In the first four days after a fleet of white, black, and lime-colored electric scooters suddenly materialized on the streets of Honolulu, the rental company that put them there — Lime — reports there were more than 3,500 rides.
Those numbers make Honolulu the highest-performing market out of Lime’s 60 locations so far, officials with the San Mateo, California-based company say.
But Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in a press conference Thursday that owners or users could face $1,000 fines or jail time for illegally parking the scooters on public sidewalks, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
But Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration on Thursday sent a letter to Lime saying the company’s launch violates city and state laws.
The scooters, which the state classifies as mopeds, do not have required license plates and they create public nuisances on city sidewalks, the letter from the City’s Corporation Counsel Donna Leong explained.
The Department of Transportation Services also sent a letter to the company May 9 advising Lime not to deploy the scooters but the company ignored it, according to a city press release issued Thursday.
The Honolulu Police Department, according to the press release, continues to impound the scooters. A spokesman for Lime said the city had impounded about 90 of the scooters as of Tuesday morning
“This kind of company coming in from out of state, disrespecting the laws that we have in place — I find that outrageous,” Mayor Kirk Caldwell fumed during in interview with Hawaii News Now on Monday.
A motorized scooter from Lime sits available for rent outside the Waikiki Aquarium.
Marcel Honore/Civil Beat
On Tuesday, Lime staff said they aimed to reclaim the confiscated scooters — available to rent for $1 and then 15 cents per minute via the company’s smartphone app — and get them back on the streets.
Lime officials told Hawaii News Now that the total number of scooters in its local fleet is around 200, but the company repeatedly declined to confirm that total with Civil Beat, only stating it was “hundreds” and that the number could fluctuate.
However many there are, the pilot program Lime launched this past weekend aims to scatter the electric scooters across Waikiki, Kakaako and Ala Moana, with staff collecting and returning any that stray out of those neighborhoods.
With the program, Honolulu has joined cities on the mainland who’ve seen the rental scooters flood their streets and sidewalks, with mixed reactions.
Similar to their approach in other cities, Lime did not attend any hearings or seek permits to operate in Honolulu. The company researched the city’s ordinances and “did not find anything that we felt applied to us” as far as permits or approvals, Lime’s director of government affairs and strategic development, Sam Dreiman, told Civil Beat on Tuesday.
It’s not clear yet exactly which laws the city has found Lime to be breaking. Caldwell’s office representatives declined to specify on Tuesday, saying they planned to issue a press release later.
“We’ve seen them cite a number of alleged violations, concessions being one of them,” Dreiman said.
He said Lime spoke several months ago with Honolulu City Councilman Trevor Ozawa about its plans after a Los Angeles City councilman, Joe Buscaino, recommended they reach out to Ozawa. Lime also reached out to Councilman Joey Manahan, Dreiman said.
Both local council members had quotes featured in Lime’s official press release launching the service.
The company reached out to Caldwell about two to three weeks ago but “we were not able to meet with him,” Dreiman added.
Then, confident in their interpretation of local ordinances, the company proceeded with its general approach that appears to favor seeking forgiveness instead of permission.
Dreiman acknowledged the company perhaps could have done more outreach with city transportation officials to try and prevent what’s happened thus far.
“It’s a good point,” he said. “To be fair, we did do our best to meet with the mayor before launching. We did speak with a number of council members who were excited about it.”
Ozawa did not return requests for comment on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, during a break between sessions for the city’s budget, he was overheard telling advocates with the Hawaii Bicycling League that he hoped to find a way past the impasse between the city and Lime.
When job postings for Lime first appeared last month, the company declined to share its Honolulu plans with Civil Beat so it wasn’t clear whether Lime would deploy scooters, bikes, pedal-assist bikes or a mix of those. Dreiman now says Lime hopes its local electric scooters will complement Honolulu’s existing Biki bike-share system, which the city helped launch with a $1 million grant.
The day after Civil Beat reported on Lime’s potential entry into Honolulu, the national news outlet Vice ran a report on such scooters recently cropping up in San Francisco. Some in the local community were so hostile toward the scooters taking up sidewalk space that they smeared feces on them, according to the report:
It remains to be seen whether Lime will get a better reaction in Honolulu.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
A note to our readers
While asking for your support is something we don’t like to do, the simple fact is that our reporters, our journalism, and our impact rely on it. Since lifting our paywall and becoming a nonprofit in mid-2016, our local newsroom has benefitted from a stream of charitable support from people who want our type of journalism to survive. People like you who understand that our work is essential to a better-informed community. If you value the work of our journalists, show us with your tax-deductible support.