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May 22, 2020
“We are kind of speechless today” – Lime quits Athens, downsizes Thessaloniki’s operation
After pausing its operations in Greece amid COVID-19, Lime announced to employees it is shutting down its services in Athens.
May 22, 2020

Edited by Iliana Papangeli & Gigi Papoulias

 

The duration of the call that Lime’s employees in Greece were invited to attend on May 19th was set to be short – just half an hour.

Up until that day, it had remained unclear how the micro-mobility multinational company, with presence in the domestic market since December 2018, would proceed in Greece.

In theory, with the end of the lockdown and easing of measures that the Greek government had imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19, the green electric scooters could could have been back on the streets of Athens, Thessaloniki and Rethmynon (the three cities where the company operated before the coronavirus outbreak), as early as May 18th.

But internal communication of recent weeks seen by Solomon MAG reveals that, up to the day of the call, Lime employees had not been informed as to when and if the company would again begin operating.

On the morning of May 19th, the employees logged onto the call.

According to sources present on the call, while waiting for the company’s representative, (a Bulgarian employee tasked with managerial duties both in Greece and Bulgaria), one of the employees joked, “Well, if he says we’ re closing down, let’s just all pretend we don’t hear him.”

A couple of minutes later the representative logged on.

And, during the next 20 minutes or so, he announced the company’s new steps, verifying, to some degree, the employee’s concerns.

Lime is leaving Athens

Lime is relaunching in Thessaloniki “with very limited service in the next few days.”

Lime is considering relaunching in Rethymno “in the next few weeks, but we haven’t come to a decision there yet.”

Αnd Lime has “decided to discontinue operation in Athens,” the company’s representative told employees, according to sources present on the call.

The positioning of Athens – Greece’s capital with a population five times greater than Thessaloniki’s and 150 times the population of Rethymno – as third in respect to the company’s plans for continuing its operation, should come with no surprise.

Athens, where the company began offering services in January 2019, one month after the launch of its presence in Thessaloniki, “never really generated that much money” according to sources within the company that spoke on condition of anonymity to Solomon MAG. During the call, the company’s representative seconded this claim stating that Athens, even before the pandemic, was not performing “as well as we wanted in terms of business.”

Responding to Athens-based employees’ questions on the reasons behind the decision to terminate operations in the city, the representative said that “numbers are not as good as we wanted to be” and “in the end it’s all about the numbers.”

The city’s structure was described as “maybe not the best one for either bikes or scooters” and despite some good moments, the company’s management came to see the case of the Greek capital as “very challenging.”

Users in Athens are expected to be informed about the termination of Lime’s services in the coming days.

Limited operation in Thessaloniki, on hold in Rethymno

While employees in Athens will be needed to help clear out Lime’s warehouse and assist in the shipment of the scooters to other cities, possibly Thessaloniki – a different future awaits the company’s stronghold in the country.

Lime decided to relaunch its service in Thessaloniki. It is the market that, according to sources within the company that spoke to us for a previous report on working conditions at Lime, “has as many rides as Athens and Rethymno combined.”

No specific date has been provided yet to the employees.

For the past few days, the company has been reaching out to users of its App asking in which parts of the city they would like to see scooters available.

Unlike the pre-coronavirus reality, though, where a few thousand rides were logged within a single day, a limited fleet will be offered to users in Thessaloniki and, despite expectations on their part, no juicers (the employees tasked with collecting and charging the scooters) will be contracted from now on.

Rethymno is the only city on Crete, the popular tourist island, where Lime has been offering services. The company entered the market in July 2019.

During the call, it was stated that company’s management is considering launching there in the next few weeks as well, but it first intends to see what the government’s plans for the tourist season will be, and what the tourist season, on which it depends, will look like.

Lime’s effort to survive

According to Lime’s representative, the decisions for downsizing operations were made in an effort to secure the company’s future.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the first months of 2020 had proved to be tough for the US-based company, which saw its valuation drop by 89% this month: from $2.4 billion in February, to just $510 million in May 2020.

On January 9th, Lime had announced that aiming to achieve profitability this year, approximately 100 employees would be let go and the company would stop operations in 12 markets.

The coronavirus pandemic and the drop in demand for close to 100%, led to around 80 more employees getting sacked by the company on April 30th.

In a letter to employees, Lime’s CEO Brad Bao said that “almost overnight, our company went from being on the eve of accomplishing an unprecedented milestone —the first next-generation micro mobility company to reach profitability— to one where we had to pause operations in 99% of our markets worldwide to support cities’ efforts at social distancing.”

On the call, Greek employees were informed about the new $170 million funding round, led in big part by Uber. “We secured a little more money to try to really make Lime more successful in the couple of next months,” the representative reportedly said.

As part of the deal, Lime has also acquired Jump, a company operating under Uber, that provides electric bikes and scooters. Jump is considered to be significantly strong in some locations, such as Berlin, the German capital.

As of this week, Lime has been back in around 16 cities around the world.

Previous concerns and reporting

Greek employees were stunned to receive news on the company’s plans for the Greek market.

“We are kind of speechless today,” one of them said when the representative allowed a short time for questions.

Although the company was said to not yet have a clear image as to how many employees are going to be needed in Thessaloniki, where operations will soon begin, employees during the call were ensured that no one’s contract would be prematurely terminated.

Things for Lime employees haven’t always been smooth.

In April, Solomon MAG published an investigation into the company’s working conditions presenting, among other things, the legal complaints sent by the majority of its employees in Thessaloniki and raising concerns as to if Lime pays taxes in Greece or not.

Problems continued after the publication of our investigation.

Individuals that worked for Lime Greece in the past found themselves unable to claim the government’s financial aid due to the coronavirus because, reportedly, they appeared to be still listed as Lime’s employees in the Ministry of Labor’s database.

As it comes to issues with current employees, Lime did not formally immediately suspend operations on March 18th when the company stopped offering services, but did so on April 6th, with current employees losing payment for the days in between.

According to sources, seven employees that were seeking answers as to if they will receive their money were deleted from the company’s Slack channel.

In response to the matter, the company’s representative said that communication from now on will be conducted via email. And what about the money?

“You will be paid for every day until the suspension started,” the representative assured them.

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