By Heather Somerville
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Scooter- and bike-rental startup Lime is expanding to dozens more cities this year, its CEO said, leveraging the hundreds of millions of dollars in funding it has raised in an effort to dominate the North American and European markets.
The California-based company will launch its service in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Vienna, Austria, as early as next week, Chief Executive and Co-founder Toby Sun told Reuters.
Lime is one of several startups that offer dockless, electric scooters and bikes for rent, a burgeoning business that has rattled city regulators and cluttered sidewalks and bike lanes.
Sun said customers have completed 11.5 million rides on Lime e-scooter, e-bikes and pedal bikes since the company launched just more than a year ago. While the business resembles ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft - passengers use a smartphone app to find a vehicle nearby - the business model is more profitable, as there are no drivers to recruit or pay.
However, many in the industry expect the crowded nature of the scooter business will force prices down, eating into profits.
Lime has raised $467 million from investors, including a $335 million round in July that involved a deal with Uber to include Lime scooters in the Uber app. Lime is available in the United States, Switzerland, Germany, Spain and France.
Fort Lauderdale and Vienna mark the start of a rapid expansion, as the company plans to enter two to four new cities each week through the end of the year, Sun said.
Electric bikes and scooters "are well-positioned to solve the global problem" of passengers completing the first- and last-mile of a trip, when public transit centers are just out of reach, Sun said.
Meanwhile, one of Lime's chief competitors, Bird, said on Thursday its e-scooter service has completed 10 million rides since launching a year ago. Bird is available in 100 cities and has 2.1 million riders, and has raised $418 million from investors.
Investment in e-scooter and e-bike services has not been snarled by opposition from regulators or by safety concerns. Venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, encouraged by the quick and loyal adoption from scooter riders, have rushed at the opportunity to provide more transportation solutions as urban areas get more congested and climate change poses a greater threat.
Sun said some cities were quickly loosening their regulations, with Austin, Texas, raising its limit on e-scooters and e-bikes to 2,000 from about 500 in just two months, for instance.
For now, Lime is focused on North America and Europe, while Bird has its eye on an expansion in Latin America.
However, basic issues for the industry remain unresolved, such as where scooter users should ride the vehicles, helmet laws and fixing the backlog at scooter manufacturers.
(Reporting by Heather Somerville; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)