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Lime loses court bid to block San Francisco's e-scooter programme

However, it gets to question city's transportation officials about the permit process

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San Francisco

LIME, the electric scooter company valued at a US$1 billion, lost its bid for a court order temporarily halting San Francisco's plan to let two smaller companies operate after the city denied Lime a permit.

But to Lime, a court decision on Friday not to block the city from launching its pilot programme on Monday wasn't all bad. The judge wants to "get to the bottom of what happened" in the permit process and is letting Lime question officials at San Francisco's transportation agency, according to the company.

Lime accused the city in a lawsuit filed on Thursday of denying the startup permission to operate as punishment for deploying its scooters on city sidewalks earlier in the year without approval from regulators. John Cote, a spokesman for San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said the permit process for the pilot programme is "both fair and transparent" and that "the reality is that Lime's application fell notably short of its competitors".

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"San Franciscans deserve scooter services that are safe, equitable and accountable, which is exactly what this pilot programme was designed to do," he said.

Calling Friday's court hearing "a victory for the people of San Francisco and Lime", the company said it won the judge's permission to take depositions in the coming week of five officials at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA). It said there will be another hearing in November, "where the SFMTA will be required to answer to the people of San Francisco, and explain exactly what happened in the SFMTA's biased selection process".

Lime, which has financial backing from Uber Technologies Inc and Alphabet Inc, and rival Bird Rides Inc, valued at US$2 billion, are the leaders of a newly crowded field of electric mobility companies.

Together Lime and Bird have launched scooter-rental services in more than 100 cities. Both are based in California, and each expects San Francisco to be an extremely valuable market for scooters.

Lime, Bird and a third company, Spin, began renting scooters in the city this year and pulled them from the streets this summer when the city passed a law requiring electric scooters to have permits. All three applied for and were denied permits, but the city awarded permits to two smaller startups.

Lime has repeatedly said it is one of the largest and most experienced companies in the industry, and therefore equipped to provide the best service. BLOOMBERG