Electric scooter charging is a cutthroat business, and Lime wants to fix that

Charging the batteries of shareable electric scooters overnight — the latest entry in our metastasizing gig economy — can be a bit of a thankless task. The pay is minimal, the scooters can be hard to find, and freelancers often complain about unsafe conditions. Lime, one of the main players in the shareable e-scooter business, is looking to bring some order to the chaos.

The San Francisco-based startup is testing a new feature that allows its workforce of “juicers” to reserve a scooter before scooping it up for charging. In this way, juicers can claim a scooter before arriving at its location. Previously, collecting scooters for charging (which Lime calls “harvesting”) has been on a first come, first serve basis, and it could only be done once the juicer arrived at the scooter’s location and unlocked it with the app.

Lime is beta-testing the Reserve feature in Oakland, California, as well as Auckland, New Zealand, and Brisbane, Australia, with the aim of quickly rolling it out to more markets.

Bird and Lime, the two most dominant startups in the fast-growing (but still money-losing) dockless scooter game, both rely on independent contractors to collect and charge its scooters each night. Other companies, like Uber-owned Jump, use full-time employees to manage the ground operations.

Both Bird and Lime have similar models where they pay you a base pay of $3 to $5 for charging and releasing each scooter. This pay will vary based on how long it’s been since the scooter was charged and when the scooter became available. For Bird, the pay can vary between $3 to $20 per scooter.

The task usually involves locating scooters with depleted batteries on the app, piling them into a car or truck, and taking them home for overnight charging. Chargers need to purchase power supplies and adapters to complete the task.

But that job is much harder than it sounds. Chargers complain that a scooter’s location on the app doesn’t always correspond to its location in real life. Some people have been known to hoard scooters in an attempt to defraud the scooter companies, and criminals have used scooters to lure enterprising freelancers into unsafe areas to rob them or worse, according to sources.

Will Lime’s new reserve feature address all these problems? No, but it will certainly address some of the concerns stemming from the juicer community.

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