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Lime willing to ‘take shortcuts’ to make money says rival e-bike boss

"We're the only one that has the balance sheet and resources to be really competitive to Lime," Voi's chief executive told City A.M.
"We're the only one that has the balance sheet and resources to be really competitive to Lime," Voi's chief executive told City A.M.

Lime has taken a page out of the “Uber playbook,” the chief executive of rival Voi has said, as the start-up’s rapid expansion brings it close to a monopoly over London’s entire e-bike and e-scooter market.

In an interview with City A.M., Fredrik Hjelm said Lime had adopted Uber’s “modus operandi” when it first launched its ride-hailing service. “Ask for forgiveness, not permission. Yeah, we’ll take shortcuts to the benefit of scaling and making money.”

His comments draw comparisons with Uber’s initial expansion in London, which was controversial in part because of its speed and the firm’s lobbying strategy.

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Uber itself was an early stakeholder in Lime and led a $170m (£132.9m) investment round in the firm in 2020, alongside venture capital groups GV and Bain Capital Ventures.

Lime has emerged as by far the biggest e-bike and scooter operator in London in recent years and is one of the few to turn a profit. Its fleet now dwarfs competitors such as Tier, Dott, and Forest and even surpasses Santander’s fleet of Boris bikes.

But last week, its speedy expansion came under fire as Hackney’s Green Party raised questions over Lime’s partnership with a charity run by the Labour borough’s transport lead Mete Coban, following revelations in City A.M.

Lime pushed out a number of rivals when it won a hotly contested contract to operate in Hackney in 2022, which is up for review in July.

The criticism comes as dockless bike companies face growing backlash for cluttering up pavements amid a lack of viable parking bays.

Both Tier and Dott have opted to ditch London entirely in the last year in favour of European markets, with the latter describing the capital’s e-bike scene as “out of control.” This means that only Forest stands in the way of a complete Lime monopoly over the UK capital’s e-bikes.

Earlier this week, Voi threatened to depart the capital’s seperate e-scooter scheme, which is run by Transport for London (TfL) and the Mayor, a move which would leave Lime the only e-scooter firm in the city. Hjelm described the scheme as the “worst in Europe” and said it had become “financially unsustainable” to operate in the capital.

“I am concerned but the ones who should be more concerned are the Mayor and TfL. It would mean higher prices, probably worse customer experience and the ability to take even more shortcuts,” Hjlem, who is mooting launching Voi e-bikes in London, told City A.M.

“We’re the only one that has the balance sheet and resources to be really competitive to Lime. But yeah, some playing field needs to be equal; otherwise, we will have no other choice but to play it the Lime way.”

A Lime spokesperson said its local team had been “working closely with London Boroughs and TfL since we launched our much-loved shared e-bike service here in 2018.”

“In six years, we have grown our service so that it is now relied on and used by more than 1.5m local residents and visitors. We currently have contracted agreements with 16 boroughs to deliver shared e-bike and/or e-scooter services.

The spokesperson added: “We’re proud of these partnerships and continue to work with Councils, residents, businesses and organisations like London Cycling Campaign to offer Londoners a shared, affordable and sustainable way to travel.”

A TfL spokesperson said: “The capital’s trial of rental e-scooters has been carefully designed to ensure the high safety and operating standards that London needs, which includes controlled parking in designated bays. This model doesn’t currently apply to dockless e-bikes in the same way, but discussions are ongoing with regards to long-term improvements to e-bike parking.

“In the absence of government legislation, we are working with London Councils to better coordinate rental e-scooters, and dockless e-bikes, to ensure they are safer for all road users, and provide the best possible service for customers.”