Lime Hunting: It’s Just Not Worth It

So we gave it a good long try. We’ve been “juicing” (collecting, charging, and re-distributing Lime electric scooters) for over two months now. My wife and I do it as a team (an arrangement that is both not uncommon, and seems to work very well.) I’m an elderly software and hardware engineer and I’ve owned several successful businesses so I know how to work smart and optimize revenue. In short, I’m not dumb. I’m able bodied and a hard worker. So if anyone should be able to make this side hustle work, I should be able to.

After gaining some experience with our early lime hunts, I began improving our equipment and procedures. I own a small pickup that is perfect for the job. I made a grid of runners in the bed of the truck to hold the limes in place while driving around. It was very easy to load and unload individual limes as they each sat in their own slot. I set up an inverter that could easily charge 4 limes at once while I was on the road. I set up 12 chargers in the bed of the truck so that I could continue to charge all the limes after I had returned home, without moving the limes from the truck. I simply backed into the driveway and plugged an extension cord into the truck to charge all the limes at once.

This setup really minimized the amount of time I spent on the limes. And being able to early charge the lowest limes while still collecting them shortened the overall time it took to get all limes up to 100% charge. In fact, I could leave early to deliver the limes and let them “top off” while on the road. So I was able to deliver the limes usually between 1 and 2 am. I’m a night person so I would much rather serve them late at night than at 7am!

I have written elsewhere about the difficulties I’ve had harvesting limes. Their system is full of bugs and operational problems that cause many frustrations for the independent contractors that attempt to work for them. I had gotten so frustrated that I quit juicing for several weeks and just watched the reddit forum to see if Lime was going to address any of the problems. Apparently not. Plus they are lowering the “bounty” paid for each scooter charged all over the country.

But before I gave up completely, I thought I would give it one more try. Last night was Saturday night. Saturday has typically been a good night for us to work because many of the regular juicers are young and have better things to do on Friday and Saturday nights. It was a relatively nice day and the limes were getting used so they would be well distributed and many of them would need recharged. I studied the “rider map” (the part of the app that a lime rider would use, as opposed to the part that the juicers use when looking for limes to charge.) By studying this map shortly before the capturing starts at 9pm, you can get an idea of where the concentration of available limes will pop up. It looked fairly normal and we staged ourselves right in the middle of an area with many limes that needed charged. Note that the process of getting ready and driving to the starting point takes about 30 minutes. We arrive 5 minutes before 9pm, with the first lime just in front of us, and wait. (It is against the rules to move a lime before it appears on the juicer map, which usually happens at 9pm.) At 9pm the game is on and we begin to collect limes. We manage to get 5 fairly quickly. Then we spent too much time looking for a “ghost lime” in a school ground that we never did find. It was still reporting in and appeared on the map to be in the middle of the playground, but it simply wasn’t there.

By the time we gave up on the ghost, the map was nearly cleared. We started heading towards home and picked up two more on the way. On a lark, I decided to drive a bit to get one more that was on the map. So now we had 8. On the way home, at exactly 10pm, the map lit up with dozens and dozens of limes! So we headed past home and over to the closest of the new releases. After driving a while in that new direction, all of the new limes disappeared from the harvest map. All at the same time. It was a snipe hunt and we fell for it. More wasted gas. So very frustrating.

Anyway, we charged the 8 scooters and re-deployed them at 1am. Here’s how the numbers break down:

Time spent harvesting1.75 hr
Time spent serving0.5 hr
Total time2.25 hr
Total Miles Driven25.4 mi
Cost of gas/insurance/wear-and-tear$14.73
Gross Earnings ($5 x 8 scooters)$40.00
Net Earnings (before taxes)$25.27
Hourly Earnings (before taxes, two people for 2.25 hr)$5.61

Some notes:

  • The mileage is accurate. I use an app to categorize all my mileage and it comes straight from the GPS in the same phone I used to hunt and capture limes.
  • I live in California and gas, insurance, and car repairs are very expensive. I used $0.58 per mile for this calculation, and that’s LOW.
  • The calculations do not include the electricity used to charge the limes.

Conclusions

For all our time and energy, we made less than $6 an hour. This for a team that has a reasonable amount of experience as juicers; we’ve harvested over 200 scooters, and have a 93% serve rating! (Lime’s measure of how well we are doing our job.) We have an ideal vehicle outfitted to be as efficient as possible. We operate in a busy urban scooter area with a large Lime and Bird scooter fleet. We’ve studied all the tips and tricks (within the rules) to do this job well. And yet we’re making far less than half of minimum wage.

For those that say that we just aren’t scaling up enough, In all the times we’ve been out, the most we’ve been able to harvest in one evening was 12. Most nights we struggle to get 6 or 8. There is a very short period where limes are available before they are all snatched up. (About 40 minutes currently.) Plus lime dropped the price from $6 each to $5 each and could drop it further at any time. Perhaps juicing might be profitable in other markets where the limes to juicer ratio is far different.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, here’s the worst part: The way the lime hunt is structured, there is no guarantee that you will be able to harvest any limes when you go out. You may drive all over creation and never get one. It’s happened to me, on an unlucky night when half the competition was cheating and the other half was just luckier than me at getting to the scooters first. I can’t think of another side-hustle where you can go out on a job, do your best, and make absolutely $0 for your time and gas. They need a different structure than the 9pm mad dash. It’s like an easter-egg hunt. In cars. At night. For real money.

The details of Lime’s bugs, operational problems, and pricing structures don’t matter at this point. This job is so far away from being a reasonable side hustle and so many things would have to change to make a difference that I’m writing this one off. And I would urge anyone thinking about becoming a Lime Juicer to check into other side hustles.

Take care,

Jeff

One comment

  1. Follow up: I was able to sell my chargers for about 1/4 of what I paid for them (yes, I actually bought some of my chargers.) And I dismantled the stacking grid I made for my truck. So I’m well and truly out of the Lime Hunting business. As expected, I did not hear a peep out of Lime. They couldn’t care less about their independent contractors.

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