On a late afternoon in October, after the summer heat had finally broken, Edward Jensen looked down from his condo's patio and saw a man riding a Lime scooter northbound on Central Avenue.
As an urban policy wonk, Jensen knew his building's intersection at Central and Encanto Drive sat about a half-mile north of the city's designated boundary for e-scooters. If Lime were following city rules, then the scooter zooming by his building should have automatically slowed to a walking pace of three miles per hour.
Jensen, who owns his own electric scooter and favors the city's scooter program, emailed a complaint to the street transportation department on October 6. He emailed another complaint on October 16 when he saw a Lime scooter parked well outside the city's boundary.
About three hours after he sent his second complaint, Jensen received an email from David Schwartz, a principal at the public relations and lobbying firm Goodman Schwartz. Schwartz sent him the contact information of Lime's local operations manager and encouraged him to reach out to Lime directly, rather than contacting the city, if he ever had issues with the company's scooters.
"Great guy that you will like, but I’d like you guys to meet so that if you ever see one of our errant scooters outside of the boundaries, you have the ability to contact a live person who can help to resolve it as quickly as possible," Schwartz wrote. "This might help save time and energies, rather than having to go through the city to resolve it."
Schwartz's email rubbed Jensen the wrong way. Jensen, who previously led the Midtown Neighborhood Association, felt like Lime, which has already struggled to comply with local regulations, was trying to circumvent the city's complaint system.
"I interpret that as: 'We don’t want to be held accountable,'" Jensen told Phoenix New Times. "I think the city has the right to know when one of their companies is breaking the rules, whether accidentally or intentionally."
Jensen said he wants to see e-scooters "flourish" in Phoenix, but hopes that participating companies will follow rules intended to reduce sidewalk clutter.
A spokesperson for Lime, which is on track to lose $300 million this year, denied Jensen's assertion that the company was trying to bypass the city.
The spokesperson told New Times that Lime asked Schwartz to reach out to Jensen to make sure his concerns were addressed. In addition, Lime hoped to establish a connection with Jensen because the company perceived him to be a community leader. Schwartz did not respond to a request for comment.
Lime has good reason to take steps to reroute a civic-minded resident away from the city's scooter complaint line.
The company has racked up 33 violations since Phoenix launched its six-month e-scooter pilot program on September 16, according to Ashley Patton, a spokesperson for the city's Street Transportation department. Compare that with Spin, another scooter operator, which has only notched one violation during the same time period.
Both of Jensen's complaints resulted in recorded violations, Patton confirmed.
And Lime has already briefly pulled its scooters after New Times reported that the company failed to comply with a rule to use so-called "geo-fencing technology," which requires riders to park in one of downtown's 400 designated parking zones.
Lime re-deployed its scooters days later after adding the required geo-fencing capability to its fleet. Bird, a third company participating in the city's pilot program, also pulled its scooters during its first week in Phoenix after New Times' report. Unlike Lime, the company has not yet replaced its scooters.
In addition to his wariness over Schwartz's email, Jensen also expressed concern that the city passed his contact information to Lime. "I would not have had an issue with this if they had asked me first," he said.
Patton said the city passes on scooter complaints to the participating scooter companies and protocol calls for officials to redact the names of complainants.
"In this case, in an effort to expedite the correction of the violation, our staff unintentionally violated protocol and did not redact the resident’s personal information from the information forwarded to the e-scooter company," Patton said. "This was a mistake and steps have been taken internally so that it does not happen again."
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