Get off the sidewalk! Lime’s new scooter aims to make you ride on the road

Lime doesn’t want you riding its electric scooters on the sidewalk. And nor do pedestrians.

With a top speed of around 15-20 mph, the scooter-sharing company says the zippy two-wheelers are better suited for the road and should be kept off the sidewalk as much as possible.

To encourage users of its app-based service to stick to the street, the company is testing out a new sensor-laden scooter that can detect if you’re riding on a sidewalk. If at the end of a ride, it calculates that half of your trip took place on a sidewalk rather than a road, you’ll receive a notification to your phone saying: “To be considerate to others, please ride on the street in the future.” You might also receive a map showing you the parts of the ride that took place on the sidewalk.

The first trial of the system is taking place in San José, California, starting this week. The special scooters use speed and accelerometer data to determine if you’re riding on the sidewalk. Per Lime: “From this data, the vibration of the underlying riding surface (e.g. a road or a sidewalk) can be detected using a sophisticated statistical model (A.I.) that Lime designed. With this functionality, Lime is able to discern with up to 95% accuracy when a rider is riding on a sidewalk instead of the street.”

Lime said that besides using the system to encourage safer riding among its customers, it will also share its data with the relevant authorities so they can use it for potential infrastructure improvements — such as protected bike lanes — to help improve safety for both riders and pedestrians.

“Lime has been working on sidewalk riding detection since hearing concerns from some city and community partners, and we believe we may have finally cracked the code on this issue and developed a technology that is effective, safe, and scalable,” EV Ellington, Lime’s Northern California general manager, said in a release.

San José Mayor Sam Liccardo welcomed Lime’s efforts, describing the move as an “innovative approach” that “enhances San José’s micromobility and pushes the entire industry to make it safer for scooters and pedestrians to equitably share our streets.”

In other safety efforts, Lime spent $3 million on a campaign in 2018 to encourage people to ride its scooters more responsibly. Rival firms are taking similar steps, too, with Spin adding a section to its website dedicated to scooter safety, as well as offering a discount on folding helmets that fit easily into a bag or backpack for easy transportation between rides. Another scooter-sharing company, Bird, offers free helmets, though you have to pay for shipping.

With scooter accidents on the rise, companies like Lime, Spin, and Bird are keen to improve the safety of their services so they can better integrate with the community. A failure to do so could lead to tighter regulation, damaging their ability to make money and thereby threatening their very existence.