Lime launched in my city of Calgary this week, and something unique is happening: Winter. Well, winter isn’t unique, but having a bike-share program run through a cold Canadian winter is unique, and the company is treating the situation as a bit of an experiment in winter bike-share survival.

So I talked to the Lime’s operations manager, Scott Harvey, about this and a bunch of other things related to micro-mobility (including a number of your questions). Here’s a video of our conversation, and the transciption below.

Q: Let me just ask first maybe: Why Calgary and why now?

Well, Calgary obviously being a city that has expended a lot of resources to build a world-class biking infrastructure, so we recognize that’s an important part of Calgary’s sort of vision to the future. So we want to be part of that.

Obviously, second of all, Calgary just was really the first city in Canada to come to that place where we could enter as a company in a really, really thoughtful and mindful manner. You know, timing is everything and really, we as a company said: “Do we want to launch?” We launched October 30th. “Who launches a bike company in the middle of winter?” But we really felt like Calgary was ready for it. Calgarians embraced it in a way that we were, like, blown away by how much they embraced it.

So we’ve seen some great numbers come back in terms of ridership levels and things like that. And the weather has co-operated amazingly. So, you know, we’ve continued to be able to see those numbers go.

Q: What kind of numbers? Can you can tell me up relative to other cities or anything?

Sure, we you know we don’t talk about actual rider numbers, but what I can say is that on some of our best days we saw ridership — new riders, some days were up in like 300, 400 new riders per day.

OK, you mentioned earlier a little trepidation about launching at the end of October, and there are not a lot of cities that have bike shares that run all winter, so why launch at that time?

Well, obviously that was when we were, in working with the city, we were able to launch. There is a huge process. There is, you know, permitting and, you know, insurance and all of those things that need to go into us operating within the city. And operating within those constraints and needs that the city provides to us through that permit, so we wanted to make sure all the i’s were dotted and all the t’s were crossed before we went into service. And so that’s just what that date looked like.

But with that, we also said we’re going to have a great opportunity to test the product in the market, a winter market. We do operate in other winter markets in the United States . . . , like Minnesota and Detroit, places like that. So, we already have an understanding of what winter operation looks like with the product.

But where we sort of have a question mark is what happens when the weather is really cool. You know, those northern States markets don’t necessarily get that cold temperatures that we do. So, you know, obviously, again we haven’t had that opportunity with Calgary’s weather (yet). I don’t know if you’ve seen, there’s a bike just on the road that have mitts on the handlebars now. So, we’re doing some testing and trying to gather our own information so that, again, we can be cognizant of opening in markets like, you know, potential markets that are maybe in the future in Canada.

So Calgary is just going to be a really good test market as we continue to expand to Canada that’s where we’re learning a lot of this information right now. It’s a bit of an experiment.

Lime’s e-bikes in Calgary. Photo by Tom Babin.

Q: I think it’s an impressive thing to see the bar mitts on the bars, just as a commitment to winter. So it really is an experiment?

Yes, we know that the bike operates really well in snowy conditions and in winter conditions. Where the question mark comes from is performance. When we’re getting down into – 25 C, -30 C, how’s the battery reacting at that level? Are we going to see the loss of power? Are they OK? We’re going to want to test that theory. So fingers crossed, again, as much as I hate to encourage that, but we are in Canada, so at the end of the day cold weather is part of our our life and so we really want to make sure that we’re making decisions that are based on facts.

Q: You launched in Calgary with ebikes. Is that unique for the company? Most companies have both ebikes and old-fashioned pedal bikes, right? What’s behind that decision?

We know from ridership information that our customers, when given the choice of a pedal bike and an electric bike, they will choose the electric bike most. So from that point of view, when we decided to come to Canada, we said “Let’s put the electric bike in because that’s what customers are demanding.”

And yes we do have markets in the United States and the one here in Canada that are ebike only. We’re ebike only because of it, but also because scooters aren’t going to be part of that conversation here in Canada for a little while.

So we’re going to work within what we can, which is the ebike program. It’s just a really really good product. It’s robust. It can handle, we had some riders ride in that first winter blast of snow that we bought in October. We had members of the city and they really said, the feedback we got, was that, you know, the bikes perform really well in the winter. So we just really feel like this product is the right product for Calgary too.

And, again, we’re the only location in Canada, so Calgarians should be proud of that fact is about that we were the first. We beat out cities like Toronto and Montreal.

Q: Yesterday, I asked on Twitter for questions from people. We got lots of really interesting ones, so I’m going to fire those at you right now. OK, one is it about the zone. We talked a bit about launching in Calgary with ebikes, and right now there’s a zone, much like Car2Go, where the bike needs to be parked inside a zone, which is mostly the downtown area. Why that zone, and are there plans to expand it?

Absolutely. So, the city, between the city and Lime, we decided what the winter zone would look like. And then we’ll have a summer zone. So the winter zone was restricted to the downtown core and the Beltline. And, you know, I think that this is the first year of operations, so I think next year when we go into winter operations the conversation will be a little different. Because from a mechanical sort of user and ridership point of view, we missed out on some communities that we think should have been included in that winter operation zone.

But, again, that’s a great sort of learning curve for us as a company and for the city so we can go back and have some really constructive conversations about what that looks like, but then, come the summer, we will be full city operation. The whole city will have bikes. And so our fleet will, I don’t have to final number right now, that’s a continuing conversation with the city, but we will see for the summer months we will see the increase in size.

 And there’s been some anxiety about people who inadvertently left their bike outside of the zone. What happens?

There’s really not any sort of, you know, punishment for leaving the bike outside of the zone. When you’re riding the bike and do leave the zone, the app will tell you that you left the approved zone.

But you know ultimately for us we felt that rider experience was more important than “You have to take that bike back into the zone.” We have the resources here in the city to make sure that those bikes that are going leaving the zone for people to enjoy a bike ride that we can get those products back into the zone in a very, you know, good amount of time.

The bar mitts that have been installed on some Lime bikes in Calgary. Photo by Tom Babin.

Q: Speaking of rules let’s have the helmet conversation, which is always a tricky one. So just for some background, Alberta does not have a mandatory helmet law for pedal bikes, but it does for ebikes And Lime bike, unlike some jurisdictions where there is a helmet law like Vancouver for example, where helmets are provided with the bike share, they’re not provided here. So that is also causing some anxiety that’s what I read from the questions I’m getting on Twitter. People are worried about getting taking a ticket, they’re worried about breaking the rules. We’re good Canadians, and nobody wants to break the rules. Now what are you hearing? Are there tickets being delivered?

 I haven’t heard of any tickets being issued for riders on the electric bikes. From the perspective of meeting that requirement, that is 110 percent one of Lime’s main goals is to, obviously, work within the constraints of whatever the law or regulations are. And of course rider safety is of paramount importance.

So we’re going to do what we can to encourage riders to wear a helmet when they ride our product. It is mandatory, you know, so that is in the in-app messaging. That’s actually right on the bike itself, and then we’re going to continue as, you know, now that the weather is hopefully going to start to improve or stay the way it has been lately, we’re going to start to get more and more involved in some community help promote what we call Respect Your Ride. That’s a program that was launched company-wide and we’re going to, again, start to get that program here embedded in the city, so that then people can have access to get a helmet from us.

So there are a lot of ways we can do that and also that, again, we can start to have that conversation of why it’s important to wear a helmet. We really looked at that program in British Columbia, and the company that provides helmets with their rides and we just felt from a couple of standpoints that wasn’t the direction that we wanted to go. We really felt that it was a much better and much easier way to engage with the customers by having that conversation and by being able to provide people with helmets should they need one. So again that community engagement piece is really the key.

Q: So the way it stands now if you’re using a Lime ebike in Calgary, you should be bringing a helmet with you.

Correct. I mean we want the consumer to provide their own helmet to meet the current regulation. From that perspective, again, there is the ability as we launch our community programs that we’ll be able to engage the customers that want a helmet and you know we can provide a helmet, so we’re going to continue to slowly evolve that process.

But in the meantime, you know, yes we’re asking Calgarians to be mindful of the fact that that is a law and, you know, we really want to make sure that everyone’s abiding by that. And it’s about safety, right? That’s the number one priority. We want people to be safe when they ride the product.

I know people look at it as a hindrance, but at the end of the day, if you’re going to ride the product, and we know that the majority of our ridership comes from people that work downtown and are either say, great example we’re here at the public library the East Village is right here, we’ve got a lot of riders that live in the East Village and come into downtown to do their work. Those are the kind customers that are going to ride our product. Average ride is about six to 10 minutes, so you know, again, it’s it’s people that are either at work and going for lunch or thing going to a meeting or somewhere else.

So yeah, make sure you remember your helmet. Have it in your office, have it in your home and just, you know, remember it when you ride.

Q: Pedal bikes: are they coming? You’ve got ebikes in place now, in the summer when things change, will it be available?

No, again, we feel that the electric bike is the, sort of, now the new standard for our locations and in particular in candidates in ebikes.

Which brings up another question I got asked a lot too, it’s about the cost. The cost for a bike — a lot of people are saying it seems expensive. It’s similar to the what you pay on a Car2Go. And they feel like they’ve ridden them in the States and they feel cheaper and the pedal bikes a little bit cheaper too. So I’ve heard a lot of questions about the cost. So that’s the question: Why is it so expensive?

Obviously when someone comes to me and says well if I take two or three hour bike ride it’s gonna be a lot of money. You know, that’s just not the customer we’re necessarily trying to drive after. Our customers are people that, again, that’s why downtown, in any of our markets, are usually the really big focus because it’s people that are, say, going from one building and going several blocks and don’t want to get into a taxi or a cab and you’ll want to add congestion, so then they’re looking for micro-mobility solutions that can that you know take them where they need to be without it being, you know, adding to that problem.

So we feel that the price is is where it’s at currently, is where it’s at. But we’re open to that conversation and you know the more that we operate, again, this is the first time in Canada, first location in Canada. It’s a lot of firsts happening here in Calgary in that regard. So we want to make sure that we hear what people have to say and that feedback is really crucial. So, you know, we’re going to continue to look at that.  

Q: A couple a couple of last questions from Twitter: When are you coming to Edmonton?

Good question. Again, Edmonton is one of those cities that is on the Lime list, and and certainly from the perspective of working with the City of Edmonton that conversation is well in hand and definitely happening. So you know Edmonton is still a question mark in terms of exact dates and you know I’m gonna remain very tight-lipped in terms of the date. I don’t have a date so it’s not even that I’m not saying it. But you know from the perspective of Edmonton it’s definitely on the list that’s definitely going be a city we’re going to want to operate in.

Q: And I heard you say no scooters in the works in Canada?

No scooters in Canada as it stands right now. So from a legal standpoint there are rules about electric scooters being ridden on public property, so currently the law across the land — each province is slightly different — but across the land is that electrified scooters are treated as a motor vehicle and so by law they cannot be ridden on public property, unless there are certain stipulations that they meet. And so you know from that perspective, Lime is working with municipalities to engage in that conversation of when that law was, when those laws were put on the books and in terms of what our product looks like so that’s an ongoing conversation with most municipalities or provinces.

Well, that’s it. Thank you very much. Welcome Lime to Calgary. I’ve been out there riding it a lot, so I hope to see lots of you out there as well.

And thank you Calgary . Yes, lots to come.

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Tom Babin is the author of Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling. 


Also published on Medium.