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City could set stationless bike share rules in June + LimeBike is third company to ready a Seattle launch

Screenshot from LimeBike’s how-to video.

West Seattle’s Gabriel Scheer was a founding member of Pronto Cycle Share, so he was disappointed when that now-shuttered bike share system failed to expand beyond its small service area.

“I don’t think it served the city as well as it should have,” he said. That’s a shortcoming Scheer plans to address as the Director of Strategic Development for LimeBike, a young dockless bike share company based out of San Mateo, California.

LimeBike is one of at least three companies with plans to begin service on Seattle streets as early as next month. Along with Bluegogo and Spin, LimeBike is working with SDOT and the City Council to develop rules for this new-to-the-US business model for private bike share services.

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The city could have either legislation or an SDOT Director’s Rule in place in June, likely framed as a pilot for a limited timeframe for this summer or a bit longer. Companies will be able to compete in an open market so long as they abide by guidelines set by the city. The experience with the pilot will inform the creation of a more permanent permit for stationless bike share services.

The city needs to get the rules right in order to encourage responsible use of city right-of-way while also providing room for innovation and competition. This means putting the onus on companies to, for example, react quickly if users or vandals put bikes in inappropriate locations (like on private property or blocking bus stops, etc) or if a large volume of bikes end up in the same place. The companies also must have appropriate amounts of insurance and have an effective way to keep bikes well-maintained and safe.

But as always, Councilmember Mike O’Brien wants to make sure these potential concerns are put in perspective.

“The idea that the city might be inundated by bikes and we’ll be overwhelmed … it’s kind of like, ‘Wow, that’s a cool problem to have,’” O’Brien told Casey Jaywork at the Seattle Weekly recently.

Scheer says LimeBike, like Spin and Bluegogo, is in full support of working with the city rather than trying to go around city rules.

“For our business model to work, we have to work together to figure it out,” said Scheer. The company is not interested in launching “Uber-style, guerilla-style,” he said. Uber launched in many cities without permission, using the popularity of its service to effectively force cities to create rules to allow the company to operate.

But this puts the onus on the city to create rules quickly. There are more companies with competing dockless bike share business models around the world, and it would be better for the city to have rules in place before they start operating rather than fighting a company that launched a popular service without permission.

Scheer previously worked at Flexcar, so he has solid experience working to provide mobility solutions in the area to help people get around without owning a car. And he sees dockless bike share as the next big new mobility option for Seattle.

“We just kept adding services that make it easier and easier to get around the city without having a car,” he said. But at the same time, “you’re seeing new parking spaces hit record levels, as well.”

He said he isn’t against driving, but he pointed to the persistently terrible traffic on Mercer Street as clear evidence that we need another way for more people to get around.

“I do subscribe to the notion that we need to move more people through the city more effectively,” he said. “The solution is to add more options, and more options more people can use.”

As for the company’s eye-catching green and yellow bikes, Scheer was a bit tight-lipped about how they will compare to the Bluegogo bike I took for a test ride last month. He would only say, “We see the ability to ride a bike as a social equity part of the equation.”

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17 responses to “City could set stationless bike share rules in June + LimeBike is third company to ready a Seattle launch”

  1. Fred

    Down w/ Pronto. Long live bike share!

    1. Rick T

      That’s how bike share should be done. If other cities see Seattle as a testing city then it passes with high demands, and bikes are not a hazard to vehicles and pedestrians. It could mean that the mayor was right in the first place. Let privately owned bike share operators do their thing with proper permits. Dockless is the way to go. Who wouldn’t want to arrive at their office doorsteps lock up bike via app rather than walk 2-3 blocks after docking at station then walk back to the office? I can’t wait for the bikes to circulate around the city. Now that’s freedom to roam.

  2. Capitol Hillian

    First one to go for a pedal assist fleet is going to win.

    “Public-use bike programs in over 60 cities in Europe currently have an e-bike component, and last year China forged ahead by adding 3,000 more e-bikes to a huge fleet in Jincheng. E-bikes, or “pedelecs,” are not solely electric because it is only after the cyclist pedals a few revolutions that the electric mechanism activates to ease the ride. This is why e-bikes are also called “pedal assist.”

    1. Law Abider

      Good lord, please no e-bikes. There’s been a steep increase in the number of e-bikes on the trails the past year. The people that ride them typically have no cycling experience and ride them in extremely unsafe manners.

      If you’re that lazy, get a scooter.

      1. Capitol Hillian

        Your athletic privilege is showing. Not everyone can or wants to bike up Seattle’s seven hills. Like it or not, pedal assist bikes are a key to mass cycling in Seattle. And given the price of those bikes a sharing system would make them more accessible for those who can’t drop thousands of dollars on a bike.

      2. ja

        “ride them in extremely unsafe manners”.
        If a sizable increase in people cycling because of e-bikes means there’s fewer cars on the road and more of an impetus for bicycle infrastructure, I will gladly take “unsafe manners” of a 50 lb e-bike vs a 6,000 lb vehicle driven by someone texting, eating and playing with the radio.

      3. Law Abider

        “Not everyone can or wants to bike up Seattle’s seven hills.”

        Cool, they can take the bus or walk or drive or call an Uber or flap their arms and fly up the hills for all I care.

        Inevitably, there’s some e-bike apologist on every blog post that contains something about e-bikes. They justify allowing e-bikes with some sob story, for example, about a theoretical single mother of six who has no other means to get to the grocery store and lug all those groceries, between her five daily jobs. In reality, pretty much 100% of e-bike users are able bodied commuters who want to get to work as fast as possible, don’t want to drive or take the bus and can’t be bothered to break a sweat. They also have no regard for laws, rules or etiquette.

        So you can see why I’m failing to see why I should sacrifice my feeling of comfort and safety on the bike paths to accommodate people who are skirting the laws to use bike paths as their own traffic-free freeway system.

        If maintaining the existing ban of e-bikes on our multi-use paths means a slightly slower rate of cycling, I am A-OK with that.

      4. Alkibkr

        Man-up (or woman-up), Law Abider. You probably have the skills to ride defensively around a pedal assist rider. Or do you just get mad because some of them pass you? Discourteous riding behavior is not exclusively attributable to bikers with pedal assist.

      5. Law Abider

        @Alkibkr: Well, when they fly pass me on the single lane curve on the Westlake cycle track at 20 MPH without a bell or voice, yeah, it’s a little unnerving.

        Discourteous riding is not exclusive to e-bikers, but the rate is nearly 100%, versus single digits for normal cyclists. Does that mean all e-bikers are lazy, self-privileged jerks? Probably not, but they sure act like it.

        But in the end, e-bikes are illegal on the multi use trails in King County. We can argue until our fingers fall off, but until that law changes (and it shouldn’t) they aren’t allowed on the trails. QED

  3. Greg

    Munich in Germany has two public stationless bike share systems and the older of the two has been around for years. I tried them both for a week last year and came away very impressed. However, the city is much more bike friendly than Seattle, has an amazing transit system (which generates demand – bikes solve the last mile problem really well there) and so it may be harder to make a go of such a system here (and, of course, the German systems are public not private). But I look forward to watching multiple companies give it a try.

  4. John O.

    Didn’t Proto fail largely due to the lack of a basic network of connected bike lanes and the adult helmet law? So shouldn’t we fix those things first before we attempt bike share again? Another bike share failure will provide more ammunition for those who oppose building bike infrastructure.

    1. William C.

      AFAIK, another two big parts of the failure were the low number of stations and the unfriendly pricing scheme; these companies will be addressing those points.

      Yes, we should definitely build bike lanes and repeal the helmet law – but I’m not convinced we should hold up bikeshare for it.

      1. Law Abider

        The helmet law is doing fine; there is not one valid reason to repeal it. And we certainly don’t need to start repealing laws to cater to for-profit businesses. To use the bike shares you must wear a helmet, simple as that. If the companies choose not to provide them, it’s on the onus of the user to bring their own or disobey the law.

        Rental cars must provide seatbelts and airbags. Rental boats must provide life jackets. Rental motorcycles and scooters must provide helmets. How is bicycle rental/share any different?

    2. Peter

      Helmet laws: no. They actually had quite a good solution, but I don’t see how stationless bike share can overcome it.
      Lack of network: in part, but it would not have been practical to wait to start with a full scale system.
      But mostly Pronto failed because of gross mismanagement and laughable incompetence. Did they not choose stop selling sponsored ads when a city takeover was months away and not even a done deal, thus shooting themselves in the foot financially? This happened because of conflicts of interest on the part of some and the assumption of success by others resulted in nobody involved actually doing much to try to make it successful. It seemed like they thought it would just work itself out.

  5. […] three bike share companies interested; regulatory framework could be ready next […]

  6. […] their bikes onto Seattle’s streets by the height of peak tourist season. Tom Fucoloro at the Seattle Bike Blog has been covering this story more intensely than anyone else in Seattle media, and thanks to his […]

  7. I ran into two guys from “V Bikes” who are also pitching to the city. We’ll see what happens. Appears to be a lot of interest.

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