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Uber just destroyed thousands of electric bikes

As it gets out of the bike-sharing business, Uber decided the issues with giving its bikes away were too complicated—and so just sent them to the dump.

Uber just destroyed thousands of electric bikes
[Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images]

Two years ago, Uber acquired the bike-sharing startup Jump for a reported $200 million. Three weeks ago, it offloaded the business to Lime, another micromobility company, as part of a deal that also involved laying off most of Jump’s staff. Some of Jump’s electric bikes went to Lime—but nearly 20,000 others are now being unceremoniously scrapped.

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A new series of videos shared on Twitter shows truckloads of the bikes at a recycling yard, where recyclers are now removing the electric batteries and tires and then recycling the metal. Entrepreneur Cris Moffitt, who shared the videos after receiving them from a friend who works at the recycling company, asks the obvious question: Why weren’t these bikes donated, so they could be used instead of wasted?

“As part of our recent deal, Lime took possession of tens of thousands of new model Jump bikes and scooters,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “We explored donating the remaining, older-model bikes, but given many significant issues—including maintenance, liability, safety concerns, and a lack of consumer-grade charging equipment—we decided the best approach was to responsibly recycle them. It’s our understanding that Lime has already begun deploying many of the bikes and scooters they’ve acquired from us, and will continue to do so in other markets.”

Lime didn’t respond to a question about why it chose not to buy the older-model electric bikes. But could they have been donated? There would certainly have been logistical challenges, though none are insurmountable: Lime now owns the IP for unlocking and operating the bikes, which might have made operating them solo more complicated. They were designed specifically for use in bike-sharing, which means they require special equipment to charge and so would have required modification for home uses. And while the battery could be removed, the size and weight of the bike means that it’s difficult to ride without electric assistance (the bikes are also sized for adults, so they can’t be donated to children).

It’s an ironic end for the technology that was designed with sustainability in mind—and at an ironic time. Jump launched with a goal to get people out of cars and make cities more sustainable and equitable. Now, at a time when demand for bikes has rapidly grown because of the pandemic, and when many people who are struggling financially could make use of donated bikes, functioning bikes are being dismantled. It’s a reminder of one critical piece of sustainable design—it isn’t just about making a product from the right materials, or designing for durability or saving energy, but making sure that if a product outlives its first use, it can be reused and not destroyed.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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