A scooter company that failed to get permission to operate in Minneapolis this year has seized on its competitor's alleged violation of a requirement to deploy at least 30% of its fleet in poorer areas last year.

Lime has received the backing of at least two neighborhood groups in its pledge to do a better job than Bird.

This year, Minneapolis awarded contracts to scooter operators Lyft and Bird, shutting out Lime and Spin. Bird was chosen despite its failure to serve low-income neighborhoods, a situation first reported by the Minnesota Reformer.

Lime, which lost its Minneapolis license last year after operating in the city for two years in a row, blamed the city for what it called "a lack of accountability and oversight."

City officials said they had no way of knowing whether Bird was meeting its equity threshold because it didn't have the proper tools to document compliance. Danielle Elkins, the city's mobility manager, said they have now built a new system that will help them track that carefully this year.

"I'll keep watching it," she said. "And we're going to be doing check-in with both companies about their performance for the first couple of months."

The two-wheeled electric scooters first came to Minneapolis in 2018 as a pilot program. The city did not have any equity requirement then. But in 2020, city leaders made it a requirement that companies deploy at least 30% of its scooters in areas of concentrated poverty in north, northeast and south Minneapolis.

"We don't want any company to have the excuse of, 'Well, if we put it there, no one uses it,' because we knew that wasn't true," Elkins said. "But we knew that we also had to put in some parameters in order to make them do the right thing."

Minneapolis has promoted scooters as a way to connect low-income communities with jobs and other resources. The city said it will make changes and bring in other companies if Bird fails to meet its fleet requirement this year. The city has the ability to license up to six scooter companies.

Elkins said scooter ridership declined by at least 80% last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it wasn't until February or March 2021 when the city detected that Bird had a much smaller footprint than Lyft in high-poverty neighborhoods.

After being confronted by the city, Bird said it was concerned that the scooters weren't going to be used during a pandemic and would cause clutter in those neighborhoods, Elkins said.

In a statement last week, Bird rejected allegations that it was excluding high-poverty communities from the city's shared motorized foot scooter program, saying its goal this year "is to continue to serve these neighborhoods and increase ridership and utilization through community engagement and outreach." The company said the pandemic and the city delaying the program launch made things difficult.

Blanca Laborde, spokeswoman for Bird, said the company will start hosting a series of events in partnership with community groups as early as next weekend to boost participation.

Bird and Lyft rolled out about 1,000 scooters last weekend. Together they are expected to expand the fleet to a maximum of 2,500 by Memorial Day and remove them by the end of December or when the weather gets too cold.

The West Broadway Business and Area Coalition and the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council (NRRC), a neighborhood organization in Willard-Hay and Near North, acknowledged that the pandemic and social upheaval were largely to blame for the decline in ridership. But the groups said the program also suffered from poor oversight from the city and that operators were allowed to exclude their communities from receiving their fair share of scooters.

The organizations also expressed support for Lime, urging city leaders to expand its shared scooter program to six operators to guarantee deployment to North Side communities.

"No operator who actively chose to minimize deployments to our communities at the height of social unrest due to inequities should be rewarded with the chance to return, especially those who do not serve the entire city of Minneapolis," NRRC board chair John Jamison said in a recent statement to the city.

Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203