Ride-Sharing Firms, Manufacturers Trade Blame Over Flaming Scooters

By Joshua Brustein | November 5, 2018

Segway Ninebot, the primary manufacturer of shared electric scooters, is hitting back three days after one of the biggest scooter-sharing companies said manufacturing issues had led some vehicles to smolder or even catch fire. In a statement on Friday, the company suggested that maintenance of the vehicles — not manufacturing problems — was to blame.

On Tuesday, the scooter- and bike-sharing company Lime issued a statement saying it had learned of an issue with the batteries of some older model of Segway scooters in August. Lime, based in San Francisco, said it had worked with Segway to identify the affected vehicles and removed them from Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Lake Tahoe area. About 2,000 scooters were pulled, according to Lime.

“At no time were riders or members of the public put at risk,” Lime said in a statement posted to its website. “Unfortunately, despite our efforts, we’ve recently received an unconfirmed report that another Segway scooter model may also be vulnerable to battery failure, which we are currently investigating.” Lime also said it had taken several other safety steps, including a new daily testing program to monitor scooters for battery issues.

On Friday, Segway defended its vehicles, saying that they meet all global and U.S. regulations, and work safely under normal operating conditions. “We have observed that operational hazards do rise from extreme abuse and vandalism of the vehicles in the scooter-sharing market,” it wrote in a statement posted to its website. “We strongly recommend that operators strengthen their capability of fleet operation and maintenance to avoid potential safety problems caused by the improper use of damaged vehicles.” It also recommended that riders consider an operator’s maintenance record when deciding which scooter service to use. Segway didn’t mention any operators by name.

Photo Credit: Cedars Sinai

Scooter sharing has been a breakout hit in many cities, but there are growing safety concerns. Serious injuries are being reported with concerning regularity, and critics have raised questions about whether the companies that make and distribute the vehicles could be doing more on safety. On Oct. 19, nine California residents involved in scooter accidents sued Lime, Bird Rides Inc., Segway, and Xiaomi Corp., saying they negligently created dangerous situations in which injuries were inevitable.

Segway has loomed large over the scooter industry in the U.S., supplying vehicles for many of the biggest operators. Companies like Lime, Bird, and Uber Technologies Inc.’s Jump are increasingly trying to distinguish themselves by claiming to have better equipment. In an email, a spokeswoman for Lime suggested the company remained concerned about the quality of Segway’s scooters. “We look forward to working with Segway to rule out any safety issues and restore our confidence in their product,” she wrote.

Tension with Segway may accelerate efforts to find alternatives. Segway said it works with 95 percent of the world’s scooter sharing companies. It estimates it has produced over 80 percent of the scooters in one of its three factories. In its statement, Lime played down its reliance on any single supplier. “Lime uses many different manufacturers for the production of our bikes and scooters,” the company wrote. “One of those manufacturers is Segway Ninebot.”

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