HARTFORD -- Limebikes are leaving Hartford and many fans of the program are asking why.
A combination of stolen bikes and lack of opportunity to expand into e-scooters in Hartford, led to the departure of the popular Limebikes in the Capitol City, according to people familiar with the inner workings of the program.
The program seemed popular, with the company touting 5,000 rides in its first week.
Anthony Cherolis, Transport Hartford Coordinator and of BiCi Co enjoyed the idea of a bikeshare program. “Parts of it went really well," Cherolis said, "I saw a lot more people on bikes. We at BiCi Co and the Center for Latino progress saw a lot of people riding to work on it."
Cherolis, also a bicycle and traffic safety community leader, was integral in bringing the Limebike program to the city of Hartford. He said, because of a glitch, Limebikes began disappearing from the start.
“There was a bit of a glitch on their software side, and that kind of started them on the wrong foot," Cherolis said. "Folks could check out the bikes without having any accounts attached to it. People were using free codes and checking out multiple bikes. Folks learned that system very quickly, and a lot of bikes just kind of got absorbed into the community without any way to figure out who had them or to get them back."
Limebike does not report stolen bicycles to the police department, and with estimates anywhere from 300 to a 1,000 stolen Limebikes in Hartford, the program became expensive.
Limebike wanted to expand to the harder-to-steal electric scooters in Hartford, but that never happened.
“I’m bummed," Cherolis said. "We really want to see e-scooters in the mix, just to continue developing an understanding of other ways to get around in Hartford that are environmentally sound and sustainable," he said.
When e-scooters were proposed to city council, councilors wanted to pause and consider the impact.
Council Majority Leader James Sanchez explained, “they turned around and came in a few months ago to introduce e-scooters. Now e-scooters is a whole different category. It’s a smaller unit, it’s a unit that you really can’t see the person driving. And I’ve tried one of these things and they go pretty fast. I dare-say upwards to at least 30 miles an hour. It’s a fast, small vehicle that visibly is dangerous. The other issue is that there’s a lot of other liabilities potholes, we have slick sidewalks, we have pedestrians we’re not sure this is actually going to be a positive impact for the city.”
Sources said the top speed of the scooters is 15 mph.
Without the possibility of e-scooters in the immediate future, Limebike pulled out of Hartford. But Councilman Sanchez said other e-scooter and Bikeshare programs are vying for an opportunity in Hartford.
Scott Mullen, Director of Northeast Expansion at Lime said: "Every Lime community is unique to the riders that live and work there. In Hartford, Lime riders are overwhelmingly choosing Lime products as their preferred micromobility vehicles. But in the coming weeks, we will be phasing out Lime bikes throughout the greater Hartford region. Riders should be sure to check the Lime app for the location of their nearest vehicle in advance of renting."
After the initial launch and first month of the program, requests made throughout 2018 for comment on ridership numbers, bike theft and damage, and program expansion went unanswered by Lime.
Wednesday, Mayor Bronin’s Office said they learned a lot from this program, and they also expect an announcement in the coming weeks on new sustainable bikeshare transportation options in Hartford.
During the summer and fall after Lime's launch, neighboring towns expressed interest in expanding the program.
West Hartford officials were evaluating a potential partnership. New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart was also considering a bike-share program with Lime.
Wednesday evening Mayor Stewart said she had called Mayor Luke Bronin to discuss a more regional approach to bike-sharing. Stewart said she'd be making a call to West Hartford's mayor on Thursday.