Uber sends truckloads of e-bikes to scrap yard despite nationwide bike shortage

Uber said it had no choice, but bicycle advocates and others are up in arms, saying the tech company could have donated or sold the bikes and scooters.
Image: A woman rides an Uber JUMP e-bike in Culver City, Calif.
A woman rides an Uber Jump e-bike in Culver City, Calif., on March 3, 2019.Chris Delmas / AFP via Getty Images

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By David Ingram

Uber is sending thousands of e-bikes and e-scooters to a scrap yard in North Carolina, even as demand for simple ways to get around has soared during the coronavirus pandemic.

The San Francisco tech company confirmed Wednesday that it had sent the e-bikes and e-scooters off for metal recycling and proper disposal of their batteries after photos and video on social media showed the red devices with Uber logos lined up at a scrap yard.

The decision to destroy them angered cycling advocates and others who said Uber should have done more to find a useful purpose for the electronic bikes and scooters, perhaps donating them to a nonprofit or selling them to individuals, given that many people who typically ride transit are searching for alternative means of transportation.

"Something certainly better could come of them than that," said Cris Moffitt, a Florida businessman who said he posted the photos and video on Twitter after he received them from a friend. "They could be repurposed."

Uber said it had no choice but to recycle them because the e-bikes and e-scooters require a high level of maintenance and because another company, Lime, now owns the intellectual property rights behind the designs.

This month, Lime acquired Uber's bike and scooter division, known as Jump, in a deal that shook up that particular corner of the tech industry. Lime bought many of the existing Jump bikes and continues to operate some but not all of them — leaving Uber with the leftovers, both companies said.

"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," Uber said in a statement.

Potential waste from e-bikes and e-scooters has long been a concern as they have proliferated in cities around the U.S. and abroad. Some old ones are donated, but many others are scrapped, Slate reported last year. (Around 12 million cars and trucks are junked per year in the U.S.)

Uber did not provide an exact number of bikes being recycled but said it was in the thousands.

A representative for Uber said she was not sure whether Uber approached anyone specifically about accepting a donation or whether anyone turned down the idea. But she said that even if new owners were willing and able to fix up and maintain the devices — not a simple task, she noted — there was a risk of violating Lime's intellectual property rights.

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Lime was not part of the decision about what to do with the bikes and could not comment on the possible intellectual property hangup, a Lime spokesman said.

Seeing the bikes destroyed was a "gut punch," Rudi Riet, a former Jump employee, wrote on Twitter. "Shame on @Uber for doing this. You had the best bike in the #micromobility and #bikeshare industry, and now it's just... gone. Friends and former colleagues put years' worth of work into this."

The Bike Share Museum, which collects similar bikes, said it was disgusted by Uber's decision, especially "in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic where bicycles have literally become an object of survival."

"Heavy as they are, these could be transportation for the many who have been brought to financial ruin during COVID-19," the organization said on its website.

A person who answered the phone at the North Carolina metal company handling the recycling confirmed that it was doing the work but had no other comment.