Lime, the shared mobility company specializing in electric scooters, pays thousands of independent contractors to charge its scooters overnight to ensure the scooters have enough battery to get through a day of scooting.
But, despite raising $765 million in less than three years, the company is facing a rumored cash crunch that has resulted in raising prices and laying off employees. Now, Lime is also slashing rates for its scooter chargers, called juicers, who are not employees but independent contractors under a typical gig economy arrangement.
In some cases, Lime reduced the per-scooter fee paid to juicers so much that few people are even bothering to scoop up the scooters. For example, in the last week, juicer fees in Oakland fell below $4 per scooter, according to a post on Indybay and confirmed by comments in a Reddit forum for Juicers, down from $8 or more in previous months. In Paris, Lime used to pay freelancers as much as 20 Euros per scooter, then slowly brought that down to 5 Euros, before ending the use of juicers altogether. With the rates so low, few juicers appear to be bothering to charge them.
“At $3.30 you're basically paying Lime for the privilege of charging their scooters for them,” one juicer commented on Reddit. “Fuck that.”
Juicers are expected to pick up scooters—usually in their personal cars, trucks, or SUVs—take them home and charge them on their own power supply overnight. As part of their agreement with lime, the scooters must be back on the road by 7 am.
In a statement to Motherboard, Lime downplayed the fee slashes. “Lime regularly makes minor adjustments across a range of business inputs in every market we operate, all with the goal of providing our riders a reliable, affordable and convenient transportation option,” Lime said, before adding that juicers should check their app to see prices before deciding to “take on a job.” Lime also added there has been “no notable change in ridership” in Oakland due to the slashed rates.
The rate cuts come amid larger turmoil at Lime, the highly valued scooter and bikeshare startup. After raising $310 million from Bain Capital last year at a valuation of $2.4 billion, the company promptly burned through nearly all of it, according to a subsequent report in The Information. Lime has spent more than a year asserting its newer, more durable scooters will improve the shared scooter industry’s dismal economics, but the jury appears to still be out (for what it's worth, the more durable yet heavier 45-pound scooters seem to be a factor in some juicers no longer wanting to do the work, because they’re harder to lift into trucks or SUVs). In January, Lime laid off about 100 people and exited 12 markets, raising questions about how it will achieve $1 billion in revenue this year—up from $420 million last year—as it projected.
Juicers have been affected in a predictable way. When Lime, which is barely three years old, first entered markets, it advertised juicer gigs on Craigslist and similar job sites with high rates, only to gradually reduce them over time. This was a very similar playbook to the one followed by ridehailing giants Uber and Lyft to attract drivers.
But, unlike Uber and Lyft, the structure of juicing prevents anyone from relying on the income to pay their bills. Lime provides juicers with only four chargers, the scooters can take up to seven hours to charge depending on the battery state, so there is a natural—and low—limit to how much any juicer can earn in a given night. As a result, juicing attracts mostly part-timers looking for a little extra cash.
“I pretty much stopped juicing when the price changed,” said one juicer in Oakland who asked not to be identified because he feared retribution from the platform. He used to pick up about six scooters per day, and at the old prices of about $6 or $7 per scooter, could count on about $200 a week. But, gradually, it started to get less convenient and profitable. There have been fewer “hubs” where scooters can be dropped off and it’s harder for him to find scooters he’ll get at least $5 to charge. Now, at only about $3 per scooter—before factoring in the taxes he will owe plus all his expenses—the juicer called the gig “a fools errand.” At $3, he added, “it’s like working for free.”
“It used to be a decent gig,” another Reddit commenter said when asked about the price reductions, “but now it's akin to collecting cans in a shopping cart and washing windows at stop lights.”