I’m a lime juicer. That is to say that I work as a contractor for LimeBike (the electric scooter rental company) collecting, recharging, and delivering their scooters. It’s a gig economy job. A side-hustle. One of the many jobs that I dabble with. But not for much longer if they don’t get their act together.
You see, the purpose of having us non-employee juicers is to run around in the wee hours gathering up the scooters that need charged, charging them using our own resources, and redeploying them before the commute the next morning. We get paid (a variable amount that they choose) for each scooter we charge.
Easy money, right? That’s what most people think. Therefore: Enter the competition. Lime wants to have (and always do, in my market) more juicers than they need in an area. So it’s competitive. In my area, all the available limes are “released” at 9pm. At that time, the juicers working that night will be (if they are on top of their game) deployed to a strategic location that they think will give them the best chance of getting the most scooters the quickest. (And yes, we are that serious about it! It’s about the money.)
In my market, on a good night, I can bring home 10 to 12 scooters within an hour. On a bad night, I can spend an hour and a half, a quarter tank of gas, and come home with less than 6. This is the difference between making money and loosing money. So I’m dead serious when hunting scooters. I have a very limited amount of time to find them. In my market, most of the available scooters are gone within the first 40 minutes. If I take too long looking for any one scooter, I’ve probably lost out on finding other scooters that my competition is looking for. So when I waste time looking for a scooter or have problems “harvesting” a scooter, it’s infuriating, and it hurts my pocketbook.
Here’s the crux of the problem: Lime has many bugs, problems, and inefficiencies in their company and software. The most aggravating of these problems cause us juicers to waste time while hunting limes. I understand that Lime doesn’t care. We’re just contractors and we’re expendable and easily replaced by the long line of applicants. It doesn’t matter to Lime how long it takes us to harvest each scooter. It doesn’t affect their business model in the slightest.
On to the problems we juicers face every night trying to harvest limes. For clarification, this is the sequence of events for each lime we hunt:
- Look on the app for the closest available lime. Often we will also look at other available limes and try to plan a route that makes sense to get them all with the least driving.
- Drive to the area where the first lime is supposed to be.
- Find the lime. Sometimes we see it right away, from the vehicle. Sometimes we park and walk around looking for the lime.
- Once we find the lime, we “harvest” it with the app and put it in the vehicle.
- Go to step 1.
The app has always had a bug that causes limes on the harvest map to randomly blink away and then blink back when refreshed. Now keep in mind that when hunting a lime, you pick one out and may drive for many miles and minutes to get to it. If, at some point, the lime disappears from the map, there is only one good reason for it: It has been harvested by another juicer. Oh well, that’s how the game is played. You turn around and start heading for the next lime, hoping to leapfrog your competition. Then the lime that went away comes back! Arrrrggghhh! This goes on all night. Every night. Limes blink on and off seemingly at random. When a lime disappears from the harvest map, we have to refresh the map several times to see if it comes back. Everyone knows about it. Everyone just learns to deal with it. Very frustrating and it wastes all our time and makes the whole system less efficient.
After lime hunting for several months, I feel that I’m getting pretty good at finding the limes. If they’re roughly where the app says they are, I can usually find them within a few minutes. But sometimes the scooter just isn’t there at all. I can tell from the app that the scooter checked in and was at this location a few minutes ago, but it’s just not there. Often I’ve been in an area where there weren’t obstructions around (like a parking lot) and I couldn’t find the scooter. I know it wasn’t there. I can refresh my harvest map and see the scooter is still on it, so it’s not that someone else harvested it. I don’t know what causes this problem, but it wastes my time and happens to me at least once a night.
There is a way, in the app, to make the scooter make some sound. But it’s clumsy to initiate, isn’t very loud, and doesn’t last very long. Often the limes are left in urban areas with lots of traffic and sound doesn’t carry well anyway. With all the technology available, can’t they come up with some way to make it easier to find the scooter? How about simply flashing the lights on the scooter as well as making the sound? How about having a scooter make sounds and flash whenever a juicer gets near the scooter? (The app knows all about radius and ‘near’. It uses these concepts when deploying the scooters after charging to make sure they are being put in the right place.) I can think of several other ideas but they will have to wait for another article.
The “Cannot Harvest” Bug
There is a well-known bug in their system that keeps us from collecting certain scooters. I hit it usually a couple of times a night. I find the scooter but the app will not allow me to harvest it. The scooter still shows as available on the harvest map, but comes up with a cannot harvest screen when I try to harvest it. I have proof, but it doesn’t matter because it’s a well-known bug anyway. Lime doesn’t care so they don’t bother fixing it. It’s very frustrating to hunt down a scooter and then not be able to collect on it. It’s a waste of time and money. And lost opportunity because I could have been collecting other scooters!
I often think about how many other juicers drive out of their way to hunt down these unharvestable limes. I often see them on the map all evening, enticing all the other juicers to come try their luck. I’ve watched other juicers pull up after I’ve gotten back in my truck. I see them try to harvest the bad lime several times, then throw it on the ground, kick it, and stomp back to their vehicle. What a monumental waste due to a stupid programming bug that they will not fix.
Limes Locked Away
This problem is caused by bad rider behavior, but I believe that Lime could do much more to reduce its occurrence. Every night, there are a few limes that I cannot collect because they are inaccessible. They may be behind a locked gate, in a gated community (that requires a code or fob to get into), in a locked schoolyard, in a backyard behind closed gates, inside a home, inside a business, or in some other obvious, but inaccessible area.
I know that Lime cares when riders leave limes in locations that the city complains about. In pedestrians’ way, etc. They care about that because the city cares, and the city can evict them. But they don’t seem to care if the scooter is left in a location that the juicer cannot access.
Lime’s system knows who the last rider was. It has their personal information and their credit/debit card numbers. It knows where the lime was when the last user signed off of the ride. It knows when the juicers report the problem through the app. Why doesn’t lime charge a surcharge when the user leaves the lime in a place that is not accessible? Ok, maybe warn them the first time. But I’ve reported a lime being left at the exact same location in a locked schoolyard several different times. (Different limes.) So I know that someone is doing this repeatedly. Lime goes out of their way to make sure the riders know not to leave the scooters where they could be in someones way. But Lime doesn’t even mention that the scooters should be left where other potential riders and Lime contractors can get to them!
Every system can be manipulated. And Lime’s is no different. Some juicers will simply pick up scooters and essentially hold them hostage. I’m not really sure how this works and it seems to be a bigger problem with Bird scooters than with Lime, but the idea is that the bounty on a scooter goes up if it has not been found and recharged. The hoarders hold multiple scooters that they have not registered into the app (harvested) in their home/van/work/etc. Lime’s system can see that they have been moved, and that a big clump is together, but they don’t necessarily know who is doing it. But they will know who eventually harvests them to cash in. They can boot them from the juicer program. And that’s how I think/hope Lime is dealing with hoarders. Frankly, we don’t seem to have a big problem with this in my area.
When you understand enough about the way Lime’s system works, you can start to game the system, which is cheating, against the rules, and causes lots of problems for us honest juicers. One thing the cheaters do is look at the rider map before the release time, determine which limes will likely be released, then drive around and toss them in their vehicle. When the release time comes, they scan the scooters and have a head start on the night. This is a violation of the agreement with Lime because they are moving the scooters before harvesting them. A big no no. Their system knows that the limes have been moved because their GPS coordinates will change significantly. And several limes will clump together and move together as the culprit early-collects more. When those limes are ultimately harvested, they will know who broke the rules. But do they do anything about this? Not that I have been able to determine.
Something that is talked about (disparagingly) on the Reddit r/limejuicer forum is the remote capturing of limes. I don’t know how it works, and it is against the agreement, but I gather that it is possible to find out the plate number of a lime and type in that number to harvest it. Even though you aren’t near it. With such information, it would be possible to harvest a bunch of limes without finding them first, then leisurely roll around gathering them up. You wouldn’t be in a hurry because other juicers couldn’t capture them, because you already have. Come to think of it, maybe this is how the “cannot harvest” bug happens; when someone has remotely captured the lime. At any rate, Lime needs to correct whatever exploit their system has that lets people remote capture.
Masses of Limes Disappear Simultaneously
I have seen this happen several times. There will be a number of limes on the harvest map. Then suddenly a bunch will disappear. Sometimes it’s dozens in one area that vanish all at once. How does that happen, exactly? Did 20 juicers simultaneously harvest one lime each? And I’ve seen an entire city’s worth of limes vanish…and not come back. “I guess we’re done for the day” is all I can say. All I can think of is that operations has decided that they didn’t want any more harvested tonight and flicked a switch to make them vanish. Leaving probably dozens of juicers hanging.
I don’t know how many juicers are in my area. But I do know that I’m running into more and more competition while hunting. First of all, I know there is competition because I can see the limes disappearing from the map as I’m hunting. Secondly I physically see them when I’m harvesting a lime. Sometimes I’ll get there first and see another vehicle drive by slowly. It’s obvious who the juicers are once you know what to look for. Sometimes I’ll be too late and see the other juicer loading up my prize. It’s competitive, usually seems pretty fair, and is sort of fun…as long as I don’t show up late every time (which did happen one particularly brutal evening.)
Lime has complete control over the total number of juicers in an area. I suppose that they feel that it’s in their best interest to have way too many juicers working an area. Lime pays for each charged and returned lime. They don’t care how many juicers made that happen.
But there are some obvious (and some not so obvious) problems with having too many active juicers in an area.
- When there is heavy competition, there is incentive to hurry up when harvesting. I’ve seen other juicers driving very recklessly. Stoplights seem like a total time-waster. Other traffic is always in our way. We’re rougher on the scooters as we jam them into our vehicles to get on to the next scooter. When on foot we run across the middle of busy roadways instead of using the crosswalk and waiting for the signal. We ride the captured limes back to our vehicle more recklessly. If driving alone we keep driving and divide our time between the road and the app instead of stopping and planning our drive. Everything we do we try to do fast! If we don’t hurry, we won’t get enough limes before they are all gone, and we’ll loose money on the evening! If we know that we can probably get our desired number of limes without rushing, we can afford to be much more careful. The more we feel the competition, the more we feel the need to hurry to get enough limes to be profitable.
- Lime claims to be an eco-friendly company. After all, they provide completely emission-free electric vehicles, right? The dirty little secret is that every night, there is a small army of juicers driving to hell and back in dozens of major cities burning fossil fuel and leaving carbon footprints everywhere. And not only do they not care how far these juicers drive, they seem to go out of their way to make them drive further. Consider: Let’s say that 100 limes need charged tonight. If lime is paying $5 each to the juicers and 100 juicers each drive 20 miles to collect, charge, and return one scooter. (I usually drive 15 to 20 miles a night when juicing.) This costs Lime $500 and 2,000 fossil-fuel burning miles were driven by the juicers. But if 10 juicers each drove 30 miles and charged 10 scooters each, it would still cost Lime $500, but only 300 miles were driven by the juicers. There is no monetary incentive for Lime to reduce competition. But there is a huge ecological reason to do so. Guess which route they chose. By allowing way too much competition, they encourage more juicers to each get fewer limes, and far more total miles to be driven by the juicers.
- As I mentioned, I’ve found that I need to collect at least 6 limes to be profitable. If the ratio of juicers to harvestable limes is too high, I will not get those 6. If this happens several times in a row, I’ll quit trying. Now I know that Lime doesn’t really care whether I keep juicing or not. But I have 16 of their chargers, most of which they gave me for free. And I’ve spent several months getting pretty good at it (and much more efficient.) New juicers will be harder on the scooters (I have built a rack for my pickup so that the scooters fit very nicely and are not abused as they are when jammed into a hatchback or the back seat of a four-door sedan.) I would work regularly if I could figure out which nights there would be adequate limes to harvest. If I feel that I am making money, I’ll keep doing it. It usually only takes the new juicers a few weeks to figure out that they aren’t making enough for it to be worth it. They realize that they must harvest more limes per trip, or quit. High turnover can’t be good, even when your work-force is non-employee contractors.
What Lime Could do to Improve
Lime doesn’t have total control over how many juicers choose to go out on a given night. But they could have more control if they wished. Let’s face it, they control us juicers almost completely via the app, lime pricing, bonuses, and text messages! They could offer different juicers different rates. Or different rates in different parts of the city, if they wanted. They could give a higher volume experienced juicers exclusive access to certain areas or limes on certain days. They could communicate far better with their work-force. They could fix some or all of these problems or at least let us know that they are aware of them and working on them! Or just ask us for our input!
And the biggest problem, my largest frustration, is that many of the bugs and problems detailed above cause the lime that I’m hunting to not be harvestable. Rule number one, Lime: Do not ever allow a lime to disappear from my harvest map unless it has been harvested or reported missing/inaccessible by a juicer! Rule number two: Make sure that the limes that are on my harvest map are harvestable! Is this too much to ask?
Lime needs to realize that, when a lime is on the harvest map, there are probably one or more people out there on their way to try to find it. When you, or your bugs, make it vanish from the harvest map just as they pull up to it, it is hugely frustrating and wasteful of our time, energy, and money!
Lastly, Lime should simply communicate with their juicer work-force. I’ve been a juicer for many months now and the only communication I’ve received from them (other than payment information and back-and-forth with their support department) has been one 3 paragraph holiday greeting and one warning about a scooter recall (that I’m sure their lawyers made them send.) Even Bird has a monthly newsletter for crying out loud! Let us know what’s going on. Also let us know what’s going on in our local markets. Bird sends text messages before a special release occurs so we can get ready for it. Let us communicate with the local operations person in case we have questions or want to alert them to problems. It’s like we are working for a company but we don’t have a boss or anybody that we can report to. All we have is a generic world-wide support email address. Good luck with that.
Yeah, I know. None of this will make a whit of difference. But at least I feel better.