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Lime in global recall over e-scooter danger

Devices made by Chinese brand Okai found to be prone to breaking apart while in use

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Since Lime launched its scooters this spring, two people have died while riding the devices and others have been badly injured.

Washington

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".

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Okai is a Chinese manufacturer that makes scooters and other products. Nobody could be reached at an e-mail 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 US 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.

Lime said: "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 e-mails 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 per cent 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 e-mail dated Sept 8 addressed to Lime support, Ted warned Lime about four scooters with "cracks on the underside of the deck", which he labelled "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 e-mail, but did not address the defective scooters.

The reply 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."

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 for 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 (66 kg), 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". Lime declined to comment on the mechanic's statements or the Slack exchange.

Since Lime launched its scooters this spring, two people have died while riding the devices and others have been badly injured, according to regulators.

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 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, Mr Williams said, his ankle, knee, back and neck were still in pain. WP