Seattle should raise bike share caps sooner so companies can rollout for Labor Day weekend

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.

For one day, during LimeBike’s launch party, bikes were packed densely into Fremont. They have since dispersed as people biked them across the city.

No other U.S. city had crafted a permit for private, free-floating bike share before, so Seattle played it safe when writing the pilot permit rules to allow services like Spin and Limebike to operate. And so far, the rules are working very well.

Both companies learned a lot from their initial 500 bike rollout (UPDATE: This is a good argument that new companies should also have a trial period at 500 bikes to work out bugs before going bigger), and now they are increasing to 1,000 each. With a few exceptions (either irresponsible users or vandals, it’s impossible to know), people are parking the bikes very responsibly on the sides of sidewalks and at bike racks as the city rules require. And use of the bikes is through the roof.

But it will be a whole month before the companies can expand again, and with every day their bikes get more and more spread out across the city. This is great because it shows that there is citywide demand for these services. But it’s bad because the more spread out the bikes get, the less reliable it is to find one near you at any given point. The density of bikes is what makes this service really work well, and September 7 feels like forever away.

There’s an easy fix, though: SDOT could speed up the pilot permit timeline. Instead of waiting a month for the next 1,000 bikes, how about two weeks? That would allow companies to have double the bikes on the ground in time for the Labor Day weekend and major summer events like Bumbershoot. As planned currently, the companies couldn’t add any more bikes until the week after the holiday, which seems like a big missed opportunity.

Then the cap could be lifted in early September, a month earlier than originally planned. This would give the companies a month of warmer and sunnier weather to bulk up their systems and get established before the rain comes. Launching in October was one of the big early mistakes for Pronto, since it sapped a lot of the public excitement and attention during those vital early days of operation when the marketing potential was the highest. Seattle shouldn’t force these companies to repeat that mistake.

Alternatively, the city could also just lift the cap before Labor Day, giving companies even more time to get established before the rains come. Because people are more likely to bike through the winter if they are already in the habit of biking regularly.

Cascade Bicycle Club has put out an action alert (using some cool new advocacy campaign software) calling on the city to do exactly this: Let companies add more bikes sooner. You can add your voice using the form below:

In just over one month stationless bike share is transforming how people get around Seattle. To unlock its full potential we need more bikes on the ground.

People have shared what they liked and didn’t like in a brief survey. Overwhelmingly, people said they want more bikes so bike share is more reliable and accessible all over the city.

Trying out this service is probably most attractive during nice weather. Let’s get more bikes on the street in the next two weeks so people can try bike share this summer!

As long as private bike share companies keep following the rules laid by the city, there is no downside to providing people with greater access to bicycles! #WeCantWait

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6 Responses to Seattle should raise bike share caps sooner so companies can rollout for Labor Day weekend

  1. William says:

    This would have been a good idea were it in the initial plan, but doing this midstream strikes me as rather unfair to the 2 companies that have yet to get started or maybe even to one of companies already here if they do not have the resources/supply chain to scale up more quickly than they had planned and their competitor does. So unless all the four companies in the system or planning to join, privately agree to make this change, I think the city should stick with its current plan. The last thing we want is one company to saturate and monopolize the market before the competition has had a chance to get started. Eventually one company may dominate but hopefully it will the one that can provide the best service and not the one that can respond to the CBC’s poorly conceived desire to change the rules one month after the program has started.

    • jessica says:

      i see what you’re saying, but i don’t think that’s the last thing we want. The last thing we want is for ALL of them to go out of business because they were constrained to a small number of bikes and most customers got frustrated by being unable to find an available Spin or Lime bike in August/September and so didn’t bother looking for any bikeshare bikes in October/November.

  2. Yes yes yes. We need 5000 as the cap.

  3. mijahi says:

    Yes, thousands of bikes rotting on our streets a year or two from now, sounds great:

    https://www.bikebiz.com/news/read/data-mining-is-why-billions-are-being-pumped-into-dockless-bikes/021696

  4. Bill N says:

    Another big deadline for more bikes is September 27. School starts again at UW. I think dockless bike share demand will be huge on campus. Maybe requiring thousands just for UW. With an enrollment for 46k plus staff, I don’t think it is crazy to guess that 10% would be using these every day. That adds up to some big numbers.

  5. Erik says:

    Roll out just in time to ramp up for the busy rainy bike share season! WOW!

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