Lime ceases its operations in South Korea

Lime ceases its operations in South Korea

Danny Spatchek

Lime, one of the largest e-scooter rental services in the world that at the peak of its operations maintained over 3,000 vehicles in the Busan metropolitan area alone, announced that it will cease operations in South Korea on June 30.

According to an industry insider familiar with Lime’s business operations in the country, the government’s overly-strict policies -– such as forcing companies to obtain more user identification information through their apps, a requirement not required in most other countries in which e-scooters operate – led Lime to withdraw.

“The biggest advantage of a global operator like Lime is that the scooters can be used anywhere in the world if you have a Lime account,” the insider said. “But the local governments throughout South Korea forced scooter companies to build a separate app for the Korean market only. There was a continuous demand for registration and authentication of a Korean driver’s license and Korean ID card of riders. Money needs to be allocated to an app developer, which means that extra budget is needed to operate in Korea.”

The insider also characterized the rules currently in place in the e-scooter industry as inflexible.

“In Seoul, scooters are being towed based on the illegal parking standards that correspond to cars,” the insider said. “For example, a scooter parked within 10 meters of a bus stop is subject to towing. The reason why a vehicle parked within 10 meters of a bus stop is subject to illegal parking is that if the vehicle is parked on the road within 10 meters of the bus stop, the bus cannot stop at the station. However, this rule is being applied to e-scooters parked on the sidewalks.”

Lime’s opening ceremony in Busan on February 5, 2020.

The Korea Herald reported that towing policies such as that one in Seoul resulted in Lime losing 10-20 percent of sales revenue last year.

Kim Hyeon Ryeong, the head of a transportation management department for the Busan metropolitan government, said in an email that in Busan, e-scooters haven’t been towed so haphazardly.

“In some cases, the Busan metropolitan government collects them in case of inconvenience due to interference with citizens’ traffic, but most of them are instructed to contact e-scooter companies to clean them up,” Kim said. “The government’s policy on e-scooters may sometimes be considered a little too strict, but civil safety comes first.”

Kim’s comments echoed those of several Busan citizens questioned about Lime’s exit from the country, hinting at the precariousness of the e-scooter market given South Korea’s cultural emphasis on order.

“I’ve seen a lot of collisions because of the scooters driving by people in crowded alleys, and I just think they’re dangerous,” said Park So Yeon, a 22-year-old Kyungsung University student. “They’re dangerous to both pedestrians and people driving cars, so I think if they don’t exist, it’s OK to me.”

“I’ve ridden them a few times,” said Busan University-area man Kim Do Hyeong, 32. “When they are used on the same sidewalks used by pedestrians, I’ve personally experienced that they can be dangerous for the pedestrians and the riders themselves. But if they have their own paths and if the people have helmets, I think they’re fine.”

Lime e-scooters alone were ridden over 2 million times since the company arrived in Busan in late 2019, and while the industry insider admitted that the feedback e-scooter companies often receive regarding the vehicles is negative, he also suggested the silent majority of Korean citizens actually are in favor of their continued presence on the streets.

“They can be used as a leisurely means to enjoy all the beautiful views in the city. You can go just in front of your destination by riding e-scooters. For those who use public transportation, it is a little faster and more convenient to get from a public transportation stop to the next destination. I think that the reduced travel time means that we can spend more time with the things we want to do and the people we want to meet. I think that is attractive to a lot of people.”

According to the Herald article, Lime representatives noted that the company’s suspension of operations could be only temporary, but gave no indication of when they might return.


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