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Bike share ridership keeps climbing quickly, Spin and LimeBike start rolling out city’s next 1,000 bikes

See our Seattle Bike Share Guide for an updated list of bike share companies in Seattle, links to download their apps and a quick rundown on how it all works.

This Spin bike has an upgraded headlight. The company is rolling out improved bikes with better headlights and lower gears.

LimeBike says its first 500 bikes saw “about 10,000 rides” in their first week of action. When added to Spin’s total the same week, Seattle’s 1,000 bike share bikes likely quadrupled Pronto’s best week ever and surpassed even Portland’s Biketown in its first week of operations in July 2016 with the same number of bikes.

This is a big deal because Portland has significantly higher biking rates, many more miles of connected bike infrastructure and is much less hilly than Seattle. So if the same number of bikes is doing the same or better here compared to there, that’s eye-opening.

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Spin declined to give us a ride count for the same week, but CEO Derrick Ko said that combined with LimeBike’s reported total, the two companies “significantly bested” Biketown’s opening week ride count of 13,402.

The days of comparing these new bike share systems to Pronto are already over. We’re in all-new territory for West Coast bike share. Because unlike Biketown, the bike share companies in Seattle are not stopping at 1,000. Starting Monday, Spin and LimeBike started rolling out their next 500 bikes each. Both companies say they are adding bikes gradually all week, so Seattle’s bike share total should be up to 2,000 in a couple days.

Two more companies, VBikes and ofo, have also submitted permits to operate in Seattle and could add 1,000 each if approved. And in one month, companies will be able to increase their bike counts to 2,000 each. Then in October, caps will be lifted. That’s really the start of stage two for this new private bike share experiment in Seattle: The search for the magic number of bikes needed to best serve our city (and, of course, win riders and make money).

ofo in particular has an enormous amount of investment capital behind it, having raised $700 million just last month. They claim that riders have taken two billion (like, with a “b”) rides on their 2.5 million bikes in operation, mostly in cities in Asia. They also have my favorite bike share company name because if you type ofo lowercase, the letters look a bit like someone on a bike. Cute!

We have reached out to ofo several times in recent months, but have not yet been in touch with anyone who can speak to the company’s vision for operating in Seattle. But theoretically, there is not much a of ceiling for how many bikes a company with that level of investment could bring.

Perhaps you are sitting there scratching your head because none of this makes any sense. How could there be enough money in renting $1 bikes to justify all this investment? You’re not alone.

As people living in an U.S. city, we just can’t imagine the number of bike rides these companies believe they can facilitate. No U.S. city has biking rates that high.

Well, suspend your disbelief for a moment with me.

From a 2012 SDOT survey.

A 2012 survey of Seattle adults found that the single biggest barrier to biking is not hills or weather or even the city’s lack of bike lanes. It’s much more simple: Access to a working bicycle. Only 40 percent of Seattle residents said they had access to a bike that works, and bike share solves that problem (at least for people with a debit/credit card and a smart phone).

Add to this the fact that 40 percent of trips in the U.S. are fewer than two miles. Half are fewer than three miles. That is an enormous number of trips within a 20-minute bike ride (both Spin and LimeBike have said that average trips are about 17 minutes or so).

And our current transportation options to fill such relatively short distances are often quite awful. Driving a personal car is expensive and frustrating, and makes little sense for most trips under a couple miles. Local buses don’t really go from point A to point B for many people’s trips, and many local buses run infrequently compared to express routes. TNC services like Uber and Lyft and car-sahring services like Car2Go and ReachNow have exploded in recent years in large part to serve these shorter connections, and their successes are based on being the most convenient option for people who can afford it.

Well, now imagine a Seattle where you can depend on finding a $1 bike share bike within a block or two of wherever you are at all times. There’s no surge pricing, it’s available on-demand 24/7, and it’s fun. If bike share becomes the cheapest and most convenient option for half of people’s trips, the potential ride volume is enormous. The ride volume is still enormous even if they only capture a relatively small percentage of these trips.

In other words, these companies are betting on a bicycle transportation revolution in Seattle. If they succeed, we could see a reduction in vehicle miles traveled, which has ramifications both for traffic and for the city’s total emissions. There will be many naysayers, of course, and nobody can say for sure if the companies can get there. But if they succeed, that would be an enormous benefit to our city. Right now, they are the only services working in the immediate term to do anything to improve our city’s transportation options. Subways are years and decades away, and more TNCs just means more traffic. These bikes are hitting our streets as I type these words.

The biggest barrier to success for these companies is Seattle’s lack of comfortable and connected bike infrastructure. The good news is that the companies are basically supplying a user base for any new bike investments the city makes. So the sooner the city can get them open, the sooner they can be put to use moving people around town.  The bad news is that the city’s bike network continues to move at a glacial pace, especially compared to these new bike share services. The staff at SDOT working on bike network projects are working hard, but adding a couple connections here or there each year just isn’t going to get us where we need to be fast enough. Like these bike share companies, SDOT needs to scale up its bike network efforts if the department wants a lot more people to be able to rely on bikes to get around.

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48 responses to “Bike share ridership keeps climbing quickly, Spin and LimeBike start rolling out city’s next 1,000 bikes”

  1. Ballard Resident

    So how many rides the first week or two were free? I’d guess most of them. Lime Bike didn’t require a credit card. I didn’t try Spin so I don’t know if they required one. I’d say the high participation rate was because of the free rides.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Is $1 really going to be such a barrier? I guess we’ll find out soon.

    2. Nick vdh

      That is a good point. I’ve taken 5 rides, and they’ve all been free. I think it will be worth it though, because that’s how you get people hooked.

    3. Yeah but that’s normal for a rollout.

  2. Lou

    Isn’t it a little misleading to say the biggest “barrier” to biking is access to a working bicycle? The survey just asks people if they have access to a working bicycle. Just because you don’t have access doesn’t really mean that’s the barrier keeping you from biking. For an awful lot of those people (most?) they might just not like riding bikes.

    1. Having a working bicycle is key to getting around the city. I know it has saved me tons of time.

  3. Davepar

    One word: rain. Unfortunately this rosy picture could wilt soon for about 9 months.

    Also, I assume much of the investment in these companies is “green” investment money. In other words people who are investing in climate solutions versus money makers. Hopefully profit is not the primary motive, because the math is not there.

    1. Jack

      I really don’t get why people continue you harp on rain & hills being a detriment to Seattle biking. Seattle is in the top 10 for bike commuting in the country despite that rain and hills. Other cities up there are Minneapolis, which has far harsher winters than we have.

      No, I don’t expect Seattle is going to become some bike mecca with even 10% of commuters using bikes, but there is enough interest to easily sustain it near the top like Portland or D.C.

      And in the winter, when you have the choice to walk downtown in the rain, or sit on a crawling bus that has wet floors, seats, and gross people, or for $1 hop on the 2nd ave bike lane and cross 15 blocks in 10 minutes with fenders….it really isn’t that bad of a choice.

      I use bike share primarily when I want to skip a bus connection, or hop in a direction that isn’t easily serviced. Not when I want a nice good ole bike ride. Honestly, I like summer walks, but in the winter, reducing that time by a factor of 3 with a quick bike trip seems like an easier decision in the summer.

    2. Peri Hartman

      Leave rain out of the discussion. Cloudy, damp days, for sure. Rainy days? Seattle has 152 rainy days, meaning over 200 non rainy days, for a total average of 34″ (this varies from the south to north by quite a bit, however). By comparison, NYC has 121 rainy days and 46″ total. Really, not that different.

      In fact, NYC has much heavier rains that come in bursts. So, if you’re caught in one, you are hosed, literally. Maybe we have it better, here.



    3. Southeasterner

      If I had to use one word it would be safety.

      Seattle doesn’t have an integrated bicycle network but rather a bunch of isolated and inconsistent bike “projects” with completely inadequate way-finding for most casual riders and quite a few frequent riders.

      Combined with Uber and Lyft drivers using bike lanes as waiting areas this is actually a pretty awful city to bike in.

      If we had halfway decent infrastructure and just a bit of enforcement this would be a great cycling city.

  4. Don’t follow me on strava.

    Regarding cycling the infrastructure, any idea if SDOT will collaborate with the providers to analyze the ‘heat maps’ of all their rides for a high quality database of actual ‘commuter’ type rides and incorporate these user routes in planning? The strava heat maps I think are less useful as the user group and route selection is too diverse.

  5. Takin’ er easy

    Why are these guys parking their bikes in bike racks? They don’t need to be there since they use other security methods.

    1. Nick vdh

      Sometimes it’s the only option if the sidewalk isn’t big enough. Better than blocking the sidewalk for pedestrians, and if someone needs to lock their bike there, they can move the bikeshare bike out of the way.


    2. Greg

      Because at least one of the existing companies encourages their riders to do just that.

      The Dutch are quite worried about exactly this sort of impact on non-bikeshare bike use:


      And “moving the bikeshare bikes out of the way” won’t be possible once you get to a certain critical mass. These aren’t light bikes – moving three or four of them to make space for your bike is going to be challenging for many people.

      OTOH from the bikeshare companies perspective maybe it’s a feature. If you make private bike use impractical, that just means more customers for them ;-)

  6. Eli

    On the last paragraph —

    I got a Citibike membership within 3 weeks of moving to NYC. My Brompton sits almost unused. Even with NYC’s incomplete protected bicycle network ruling out 80-90% of my potential trips, I find that nearly every day there’s still a trip in which it makes more sense to grab bike share than it does to use the subway.

    Citibike’s ridership has been increasing 30% YoY for 3+ years now – that’s the kind of growth curve you get at tech companies. Heavy bike share ridership days now rival Seattle’s entire light rail system. In 4 more years, we’ll be at 200K riders/day.

    Once NYC builds out a more protected bike network (they’re building 20 miles a year these days, so it’s happening fast), I expect I’ll be using it as my primary form of transportation during nice weather.

    I don’t see how I’d ever ride it in Seattle, though. But we’ve been through “put out bikes and everyone will just magically use it on downtown arterial streets with speeding cars” debate here, so I’ll leave it there.

  7. Rain is perhaps the biggest reason I’ll use bike share. When a day’s weather is unpredictable, I’m less likely to ride my own bike to that day’s destination(s). It’s a commitment. With bike share I can be far more flexible in my transportation options…bus when it’s wet, ride when it’s dry.

    1. Alex

      This is by far the biggest reason I never bought the rain argument for why bike share won’t work in Seattle. Bike share is one way and adaptable to the situation.

      1. jessica

        interesting because I thought the opposite- on a rainy day, i want to ride my own bike that has been parked in the garage and doesn’t have a sopping wet seat. I see what you’re saying though.

    2. Clark in Vancouver

      I don’t know about Seattle’s weather but many times over the winter in Vancouver, the day starts off rainy and later the sun comes out in the afternoon.
      Because of this you can take the bus in the morning to work and then with a bike share bike you can bike home.

      1. asdf2

        Assuming you don’t forget to take your helmet with you when you ride the bus (and don’t accidentally leave it on the bus).

  8. Rebecca Roush

    Tom, I’m in Minneapolis for work, and I have been using Nice Ride, the city’s bike share. Having used Lime and Spin for the past few weeks, I suspect that docked bike share is a thing of the past. I have to walk three blocks to get a bike. Brutal!
    I’m saying this somewhat tongue in cheek. And it’s hard for me to say, having been on the Board of Pronto before the City of Seattle subsumed it.
    I think the next challenge will be finding a way to park dockless bike share bikes properly on residential sidewalks, where there’s often not room. I’d love to find one on the sidewalk outside my front door.

    1. Josh

      I suspect one simple answer for residential sidewalks is tolerated trespass, especially in single-family zones.

      Want to find a bikeshare outside your front door every day? Pull in your front fence a couple of feet, smooth out the ground, maybe even put up a little “bikeshare parking” sign, and anyone with a trip ending on your block will suddenly have an incentive to leave a bike for your next trip.

      Narrow sidewalks where multifamily is built without setbacks may be more problematic, but any building that exceeds its parking minimums can plop a rack in their best parking space as flypaper for bikeshare-using tenants.

      1. asdf2

        I assume it’s ok to park a bikeshare bike in your own driveway? Especially if you don’t have a car to be blocked by it.

  9. d79467

    I call BS on these ride numbers. Quadruple the ridership of Pronto’s best week does not square with my admittedly unscientific method of seeing people riding them around town. Until we see audited numbers there is too big of an incentive for folks to project the image of a successful business model.

    1. Ballard Resident

      Perhaps it depend on where you are.

      I rode Lime Bike five times [downtown and Ballard] when it was free and didn’t use Spin.

      These days I don’t see people riding these bikes in the core downtown area on Third Ave and rarely see parked bikes there as well.

      Daily, I see these bikes and riders on BGT near Shilshole, along 15th Ave NW and occasionally around Ballard neighborhood areas.

      1. jessica

        agree it probably depends a lot on location. I see oodles of them on the Westlake cycle track and around SLU and Lower Queen Anne.

    2. Josh

      Without the rigid station limitations of Pronto, I suspect the traffic pattern is much more diffuse and hard to compare visually or anecdotally.

      I’ve seen them in locations where I never saw Pronto bikes — SoDo, Georgetown, Mt Baker, etc. There were quite a few in use at Gasworks Park this weekend.

      I saw what appeared to be a family riding together on the I-90 bridge, two on Spin and one on Lime.

    3. d79467

      I just think a bit of skepticism is healthy when a self-interested party says something like “about 10,000” with absolutely no evidence whatsoever. I know this site is jazzed about this bike share and all, but we’ve seen what happens when enthusiasm exceeds reality in bike share once already.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Of course this could all fail. I’m trying to explain the theory behind it, none of which is guaranteed to succeed.

  10. Fish

    Ever since my bike was stolen in December, I am a lot more fearful of locking up my own bike downtown or in certain areas. That’s one of the reasons that I absolutely love these new bikeshares. I think it’s another selling point for them, in a city full of bike theft, that I haven’t heard anyone else tout yet.

  11. […] There are plenty of questions about whether this new bike-share business model, which is backed by Silicon Valley-style venture capital, will have legs. Will the companies be able to maintain safe bikes, provide good service, and stay financially viable in the long run? It’s too soon to say. But in the early going, they are proving that plenty of people will use bike-share in a city where it previously flopped, reports Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog: […]

  12. I just hosted a guest on his first ever trip to Seattle. He used Lime Bikes to make several trips in town. He sometimes rides for transportation in Chicago, and is generally familiar with urban traffic and in good shape, but isn’t a hardcore roadie or traffic junkie. Some things he mentioned:

    – He ended up making great use of the new systems’ wider coverage areas, with trip endpoints including the Arboretum, the Central District, and Wallingford.
    – Hills were challenging, but he was undeterred and did make it up Capitol Hill from a few different angles.
    – He thought our drivers were overall pretty polite.
    – Our bike network is not easy to find. He often found himself on arterial streets without bike lanes with no idea how to get to better bike routes, and a couple times ran into streets surprisingly ending or turning into stairs.

    This guy is more adventurous than average, got through it all, and seemed to enjoy himself. The hills he found would surely scare some people off completely, and there’s not a lot we can do about that. The difficulty of finding good bike routes… we can do something about that! Of course in many places the first step is creating those good bike routes.

    1. Roberto

      Great comments. I’m glad someone gave Seattle drivers a little credit. The vast majority are very polite. Sure, I’ve dealt with my fair share of road raging jerks who nearly killed me, but 99% of drivers here give me a wide berth and wave me through intersections. A good number of drivers are cyclists themselves, judging by their bike racks.
      I’m impressed your friend slogged up Capitol Hill. They don’t call those hills “thigh burners” for nothing. A couple of those hills require the granny gear.
      Your friend is also spot on about our disjointed bike network. It’s like someone took a pile of spaghetti and chopped it all up. That’s our bike lane network.

  13. I’ve heard annoyed comments by people trying to walk around them on crowded sidewalks in Fremont. Plus I’m seeing a lot of unskilled cyclists riding them and swerving around in traffic without a helmet.

    1. Erik

      Rob replace sidewalks with roads and cyclists with drivers and your comment resembles lots of Seattle drivers.

  14. We have several new kiosk-less bike share systems in Dallas now. Each new company seems to offer slight upgrades from the previous system, so this is welcome competition. Because Dallas has few protected bike lanes, I often see novice riders on downtown sidewalks, which is not ideal. Occasionally I see a cyclist struggling in a traffic lane while cars honk behind them. I’m hoping these new systems inspire cities to up their bicycle infrastructure game.

  15. T

    We keep removing unauthorized LIMEBIKEs from our property. Our townhomes have a rule about residents storing their bikes.

    We’ve been suffering a LIMEBIKE invasion where bikes are littering our private property without our prior consent.

    LIMEBIKE assumes it’s ok to trespass on private property and store its equipment, free of charge!

    What a terrible idea to invade OUR public spaces and private property without having to file for proper permits!

    Since LIMEBIKE continues abandoning their bicycles as part of their business’ design, we should insist they remove them or claim them as our own by taking them apart and disposing of them.

    Afterall, citizens have a right to claim their own properties and public spaces to be free from businesses who are soliciting without sharing the profits with the land-owners.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      If LimeBikes keep ending up near your townhomes, then it sounds like one of the residents is a user of the system.

      1. T

        Our private property is not a parking lot for Limebikes. There is no safe place for them to be stored. We’ve found them laying down in our driveway, parked in privately owned parking stalls and visitor parking stalls, blocking access to automobiles. We find them in our flower beds causing damage to our property. We do not authorize them on our property. The bikes are being used as a nuisance in our neighborhood. The owner (LIMEBIKE) tracks its property and is able to be responsible for its whereabouts, storing it elsewhere.

      2. Peri Hartman

        Well, then why are you complaining here? Complain to Limebike !

  16. T

    Our private property is not a parking lot for Limebikes. There is no safe place for them to be stored. We’ve found them laying down in our driveway, parked in privately owned parking stalls and visitor parking stalls, blocking access to automobiles. We find them in our flower beds causing damage to our property. We do not authorize them on our property. The bikes are being used as a nuisance in our neighborhood. The owner (LIMEBIKE) tracks its property and is able to be responsible for its whereabouts, storing it elsewhere.

    Our neighborhood kids are simply moving the bikes to block access as a nuisance.

  17. Dawn

    What about helmets? Not a word about helmets ?

  18. […] came into Seattle this summer to replace its failed bike-share system with a dockless model, they quickly outperformed the former system based on the number of rides, according to The Seattle […]

  19. […] came into Seattle this summer to replace its failed bike-share system with a dockless model, they quickly outperformed the former system based on the number of rides, according to The Seattle […]

  20. […] came into Seattle this summer to replace its failed bike-share system with a dockless model, they quickly outperformed the former system based on the number of rides, according to The Seattle […]

  21. […] Seattle and Washington, DC, recently gave dockless bike-share companies access to city streets as well. While DC already had a well-used station-based system in Capital Bikeshare, Seattle did not. […]

  22. […] Seattle and Washington, DC, recently gave dockless bike-share companies access to city streets as well. While DC already had a well-used station-based system in Capital Bikeshare, Seattle did not. […]

  23. […] Seattle and Washington, DC, recently gave dockless bike-share companies access to city streets as well. While DC already had a well-used station-based system in Capital Bikeshare, Seattle did not. […]

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