Car-sharing’s seedier side: Criminal activity linked to LimePods in Seattle

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Lime launched its LimePod car-sharing vehicles in Seattle earlier this year. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

A Seattle man called the police on July 2 to report a crime. Three men in a LimePod vehicle attempted to run the caller over and threw rocks at him, according to a police report.

Police in Seattle and nearby Bellevue, Wash., confirmed to GeekWire that the incident was not isolated. Since the beginning of the car-sharing industry’s short life, criminals have found creative ways to use the nascent innovation to their advantage. Because car-share vehicles are easy to rent and can be difficult to trace, they’ve become a popular tool in certain types of crimes in the Seattle region and beyond.

Over the past few years, several free-floating car-share services have cropped up in cities around the country. Using an app, customers find nearby cars, unlock them, drive wherever they want within a boundary, and park the vehicles on city streets. To sign up for the services, customers enter their names, email addresses, and drivers license info. Payment is also conducted in the app using a credit card.

Seattle has become an epicenter of sorts for these services. Car2go launched in Seattle in 2012, followed by ReachNow in 2016, and LimePod in 2019. Car2go has more than 720 vehicles on the road; ReachNow had more than 700 cars before its abrupt shutdown last month; LimePod launched earlier this year with 500 of its two-door Fiats.

A few weeks after the July 2 incident in Seattle, police in Bellevue were tracking down a package thief caught on Ring security footage and found themselves outside the home of Austin Crane. There were two LimePods vehicles parked outside.

The suspect had been recorded allegedly swiping packages from doorsteps and hopping into a LimePod getaway car, Bellevue police said. When they searched Crane’s home and storage locker, police say they found stolen packages, IDs, passports, and credit cards. They arrested Crane and his live-in girlfriend.

A spokesperson for the Bellevue Police Department said that there are several cases pending in which suspects used LimePods to commit thefts, typically involving packages and mail. Seattle PD Public Affairs Director Sean Whitcomb said LimePods have been used in “thefts, arson, brandishing firearms,” and “hit and runs.” Neither department would quantify how many crimes have been committed using the cars.

After the arrests, Lime reached out to law enforcement agencies in the region to assist in their investigations, according to Jonathan Hopkins, Lime’s director of strategic development.

“Our goal is to workshop [and] identify different trends that are developing so that if there is a technological solution or other sort of operational solution to reduce the risk of that, we’ll do it,” he said. “As we can see with any system, whether it’s the banking system, the transportation system or anything else, people that are up to no good will try and find ways to get around certain things, so it’s a constant innovation process on both sides.”

A LimePod and Lime bike in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Update Aug. 14: Throughout August, more incidents of crime and reckless driving in LimePods have been reported in the Seattle area. Jonathan Gunning told KIRO that he was stopped at a red light when a LimePod slammed into him, damaging the front and back of his car and injuring him. He said two men abandoned the car and took off on foot.

“This is not a unique incident and for LimePods to get hijacked by young kids or vandals, thieves, that’s a huge issue,” said Gunning’s attorney, Catherine Fleming.

Last week, a Reddit user posted dashcam footage of a LimePod driving recklessly and running a red light.

Lime isn’t the only car-share provider in the Seattle region but police would not say whether vehicles offered by car2go or the recently shuttered ReachNow service were being used in the same way. Whitcomb said police reports show ReachNow and car2go vehicles involved in more typical incidents associated with cars, like collisions and property damage.

There have been incidents of car-sharing related crime in other cities, too.

In April, dozens of car2go’s high-end Mercedes vehicles were stolen, vandalized, taken for joy rides, and rented out to other drivers at inflated rates, according to Bloomberg. Car2go recovered about 75 cars in various states of disarray.

Car2go pioneered free-floating car-sharing in the U.S., launching in its first American market a decade ago. But something changed in April, around the time vehicles starting going missing in Chicago. Bloomberg reported that Car2go stopped conducting manual background checks to keep up with competitors like Lime, which offers same-day approval for new drivers.

The criminal activity dogging both companies shows that convenience often comes at a cost. However, Whitcomb said that any new innovation can be a target for criminal activity.

“When there is a new technology or new opportunities, some criminals actually look at it as a challenge and will look at ways to use those new services or technologies to their advantage,” he said. “It’s not surprising to me. It’s really up to both police and in this case, service providers, to iterate on our practices to make sure that we can mitigate and intervene before these things become a bonafide trend.”

Car-share isn’t the only new mobility service to attract misuse. It’s also an issue for bike-share equipment. In Seattle, Lime and Jump bikes are often vandalized and parked in some … hard to reach spots.

The bikes and cars are supposed to remain within designated boundaries but that hasn’t stopped some customers from driving them onto ferries and in other off-limits locations. LimePods and ReachNow vehicles have caused headaches on ferries in Washington state because they automatically lock when they’re taken outside the boundary area.

There’s also an issue of illegally-parked vehicles, such as this car2go Mercedes-Benz that found itself fenced in thanks to an angry duplex property manager.

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