The fast-growing electronic scooter company Lime has decided to immediately remove one of the company's brands from every city across the globe after determining the scooters could break apart while in use.
The decision to suddenly pull the scooters off the streets arrived several weeks after the company said the same model occasionally breaks apart "when subjected to repeated abuse."
But on Friday - in response to questions from The Washington Post about the scooters breaking apart under the strains of normal riding conditions - Lime said it was "looking into reports that scooters manufactured by Okai may break and are working cooperatively with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the relevant authorities internationally to get to the bottom of this."
Okai is a Chinese manufacturer that makes scooters and other products. Nobody could be reached at an email address or a telephone number listed on its website - or at a telephone number provided by Lime.
Lime said it would decommission all Okai scooters in use across its fleets, but company officials said it was difficult to determine the precise number of scooters affected by the recall and declined to provide an estimate. They also declined to reveal how many U.S. cities possess the devices.
Riders in cities around the country regularly report on social media that they've seen Lime scooters broken in half, often where the baseboard meets the stem.
"Safety is Lime's highest priority," the company said in a statement. "The vast majority of Lime's fleet is manufactured by other companies and decommissioned Okai scooters are being replaced with newer, more advanced scooters considered best in class for safety. We don't anticipate any real service disruptions."
The mass removal arrives several weeks after Lime - one of the nation's largest scooter companies - acknowledged it pulled thousands of its scooters off the streets this summer after discovering a small number of them may have been carrying batteries with the potential to catch fire.
Those scooters were made by the mobility company Segway, which pushed back against Lime's claims that a manufacturing defect made the scooters vulnerable to catching fire.
Some Lime employees, riders and other affiliated individuals say they worry the company may not have moved fast enough to address concerns about the scooters breaking apart.
A Lime independent contractor who charges the scooters overnight, known as a juicer, provided copies of emails showing he'd warned the company about the problem of scooters breaking as early as September.
The juicer, a man in his 40s named "Ted," asked that his last name not be used for fear of retribution. He said a few weeks after he began working for Lime in July, he began noticing cracks in the baseboards and broken Limes on the street. He estimated he found baseboard cracks in about 20 percent of the scooters he picked up to charge. Eventually, he highlighted the issue in a lengthy Reddit post that included multiple photos of broken scooters.
In an email dated Sept. 8 addressed to Lime support, Ted warned Lime about four scooters with "cracks on the underside of the deck," which he labeled "a systematic issue." He included photos and identification codes for each device. Ted also asked about his payments for recharging the devices.
A Lime employee responded to his email, but did not address the defective scooters.
"Thanks for your email and our apologies for the challenge," the employee wrote, referencing a separate question about payment. "I have submitted your payment to Finance; please allow four to seven days for it to post. The payment will show as a 'bonus'. We appreciate your patience and understanding."
The message prompted Ted to respond with another plea for safety.
"I hope the Lime team takes the issue of the cracking scooter decks seriously," he wrote. "I have dropped off 3 scooters now at the warehouse that were cracked completely in half, and 4 more that had started to crack. All of them have cracked in the same location."
"I believe this is a design flaw that is beginning to surface," he added.
Ted said Lime never responded. Lime declined to comment on his account.
A Lime mechanic in California, who is responsible for helping service the devices, said employees at his warehouse performing day-to-day maintenance on the company's scooters have identified scooters at risk of cracking over the past several months. This employee said managers did not aggressively follow up on those concerns. The mechanic spoke on the condition of anonymity and did not want to identify the city where he works in fear of revealing his identity.
The mechanic - who said employees monitored how long scooters remained functional after being deployed on city streets - said cracks could develop in the baseboard within days of the devices being placed on the streets. The mechanic provided video that shows employees performing tests in which Lime scooters break after a few small hops. Later recounting the tests on the company's Slack messaging system, another mechanic noted to a manager that the device can snap even when the rider weighs as little as 145 pounds, according to images of the discussions provided to The Post.
"I would suggest that these are unsafe for public use," the other mechanic wrote. "It's only a matter of time before someone is severely injured . . . if not here, somewhere else."
Responding to a message on Slack, a manager said she had "raised concerns" about the breaking scooters and been told that mechanics should continue testing the problematic scooters and "work on re-enforcement techniques." The manager wrote that she will forward photos of similar techniques that she has "gathered from other markets."
Lime declined to comment on the mechanic's statements or the Slack exchange.
A Consumer Products Safety Commission spokesman said the agency does not preapprove products before they reach the marketplace. If a "substantial product hazard" is reported by consumers and verified, the spokesman said, the agency could work with a company to put a recall in place.
"The pattern we are seeing is not indicative of the products not meeting the safety standards for them," the spokesman said, referring to electric scooters. "It's more that consumers are having mishaps due to limited familiarity of their use and a lack of protective equipment and operating them in congested and distracted environments."
Since Lime launched its scooters this spring, two people have died while riding the devices and others have been badly injured, according to authorities. When police located a scooter Jacoby Stoneking had been riding before he sustained blunt force head injuries in the early morning hours of Sept. 1, the device was snapped in half, though few other details about the accident are known, according to police and Lime officials. The 24-year-old east Dallas man died in a hospital the next day.
Stoneking's death resonated with Stephen Williams, 29, a Dallas man who said he was injured after the scooter he was riding snapped in half on busy a city street on Oct. 10, throwing him on the ground chest-first. A week later, Williams said, his ankle, knee, back and neck were still in pain.
Contemplating his accident, Williams - who works as an data analyst at a technology company - remembered the details surrounding Stoneking's accident and began to wonder if there was a pattern. He began searching for examples of broken Lime scooters, eventually logging more than 40 instances on social media, in news reports and on Reddit, including six that he personally encountered. Williams included those numbers in a wide-ranging review of e-scooters that he provided to the Texas Department of Transportation in Dallas, as well as Lime officials.
His verdict: In a city heavily reliant upon cars for personal mobility, scooters have great potential to "stitch" the city "back together," allowing people to travel to nearby neighborhoods without creating more traffic. But, he said, he considers the Lime Okai model too unsafe for him to ride.
"I feel extremely disappointed, perhaps betrayed, by these devices," said Williams, who refuses to ride another Lime until the company improves scooter safety. "That's disappointing to me because the utility of these devices is so profound."
This story was first reported in The Washington Post.