Scooter-Rental Startup Lime Is Expanding in Israel, Vienna

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. electric scooter-rental startup Lime will launch in Vienna on Thursday and is preparing to hit the ground in Israel next month, the latest moves in the rapid international expansion of the companies.

Lime, most recently valued at $1.1 billion, plans to release its scooters onto the streets of “at least one, but most likely two cities,” in Israel within the next 30 days, said Caen Contee, vice president of international expansion for the San Mateo, California-based startup.

Contee said the company has been “in conversations” with local mayors and other officials in Israel for about three months to define a cooperative way to enter the market. A decision about which city will be first will be made within the coming days.

“We’ve come to a general agreement on how we can deploy in a pilot phase,” he said.

Electric scooter rental services have exploded in popularity this year, with companies like Bird Rides Inc., Lime, Skip Scooters and Spin attracting investors and customers at a rapid pace. Lime and Bird are less than two years old, but built war chests worth several hundred million dollars each in the past few months. In August, Uber Technologies Inc. announced an investment in Lime, which has scooters in more than 70 cities in the U.S. and Europe.

The startups typically let riders locate and unlock scooters with a smartphone app, ride them a short distance, then walk away when the vehicles are no longer needed. Some drivers and pedestrians see the scooters as dangerous contrivances that must be stopped, while some countries and urban planners consider them, along with bikes, the future of city transport.

Israel falls into the latter category. Earlier in September, Lime advertised for a general manager for the country, with responsibilities including recruiting a local team, leading marketing and policy efforts, and being responsible for regional expansion. The role is expected to be filled in the coming weeks.

Lime already has a presence in cities where rival Bird doesn’t, such as Berlin and Madrid. But Bird beat Lime to Israel after announcing a pilot project with the University of Tel Aviv in August. Lime is also in talks with local universities to take part in a pilot project on campuses, Contee said. It will get a head start on its rival in Austria on Thursday when it debuts in Vienna.

Noa Khamallah, European government affairs director at Lime, said the scooter startup chooses countries to expand to “for their forward-thinking vision on urban mobility, climate change and environment topics.”

Neither Lime nor Bird have yet been able to make their products available in one key European city: London. Strict laws and regulation stand in the way, and negotiations are tense.

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