Uber-owned Jump wants to launch its e-bike service in Seattle

No new companies have received permits to operate bike share services in Seattle since the autumn, but Uber-owned Jump is hoping to be next.

The city is waiting to approve more companies until their revamped bike share permit is ready. The City Council Transportation Committee was scheduled to review the permit rules in June, but that report has been pushed back to the committee’s mid-July meeting (there’s no meeting in early July due to the holiday).

I met with representatives from Uber and Jump recently to go for a test ride and talk about their hopes to launch in Seattle. First, let’s talk about the bike.

The single biggest difference between the eye-catching red e-bikes and the already-operating Lime-E bikes is how you lock them. With Lime-E, riders can park near bike racks or in the furniture zone of sidewalks. Just lock the back wheel and you’re done. But Jump bikes must be locked to a city bike rack using a metal locking bar that attaches to the rear rack.

There are pros and cons to this difference. One pro is that bikes locked to bike racks are less likely to block walkways or get tossed into bodies of water. Improper parking is a common complaint about the bikes in operation today. But the bike rack requirement also limits the places you can lock a bike because there are not always bike racks available nearby, especially in residential neighborhoods (Seattle’s bike rack policy is focused on business access). And, of course, many places already don’t have enough bike parking for people who ride their own bikes, let alone a surge of bike share bikes.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Even without Jump, there have already been discussions about the need to dramatically increase the city’s bike parking to help maintain bike share order and improve bike access to businesses. Concepts for on-street bike corrals could include space both for bike racks and space marked for free-floating bikes. Providing space on-street would also be a great way to help keep busy sidewalks clear.

Another big difference with the Jump bike is that each bike has an access panel and card reader, so users can access them without a smart phone. For example, someone could set up an account online with a credit card and link their ORCA card. Then all they need to do is beep their ORCA card, and their Jump account will be charged. The funds don’t come out of the user’s ORCA account or pass, but it’s still pretty cool. There’s also a keypad, so people can unlock bikes with a code.

Typically, Jump bikes cost $2 for 30 minutes, which is significantly lower than Lime-E’s $1 to unlock plus ¢15 per minute (a total of $5.50 for a 30-minute ride). And unlike any of the bike share services currently operating here, you can reserve a Jump bike for 30 minutes through the app, similar to Car2Go and BMW ReachNow.

And since Uber only recently acquired Jump, I wouldn’t be surprised if Uber users will some day be able to access the bikes with their existing accounts, perhaps through the Uber app. Imagine someone going to book an Uber ride only to have the app tell them a bike ride would be faster and cheaper. That’s pretty cool.

The bikes are sturdy and heavy, and the e-assist feels a bit more powerful than the Lime-E bikes. They also have gears, giving you a wider speed range than the single-speed Lime-E bikes. And that gets to another difference: They can go 20 mph with the assist, which is five mph faster than Lime-E bikes. But while those differences might sound like benefits over Lime, they could also be disadvantages. Part of the Lime-E success, I think, is because the single-speed bikes are so easy-to-use and unintimidating. I’m interested to see how the public responds to the two options.

Formerly a branding of Social Bicycles, Uber bought Jump in April for around $200 million, according to Techcrunch. This sort of confirms a trend that bike share companies have been claiming: Their bikes are serving many people who might have otherwise taken a for-hire car. When the bike companies first launched, attention was on how they would compete with established bike share programs. But the people behind these companies didn’t have little systems like Pronto Cycle Share in their sights, they were going for the bulk of urban trips under a couple miles that are often served poorly by transit and that cost too much to call an Uber or Lyft. Perhaps the purchase of Jump is Uber’s way of saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Speaking of Lyft, recent reports say the company is trying to buy Motivate, the former operator of Pronto. So the two biggest app taxi companies may soon be competing in the bike share space. Will Seattle see the unlikely return of Motivate in the form of a dockless bike scheme owned by Lyft? I can’t say that I would have predicted such a plot twist a year ago.

Of course, Seattle has not always seen eye-to-eye with Uber and Lyft. The companies recently lost a Washington Supreme Court case that could force them to open up their trip data, which has been closely guarded. And court battles continue over Seattle’s attempts to allow drivers to unionize. So will these companies bring that baggage to the generally-friendly bike share program? Will this lead to bike share workers joining the fight to unionize?

Innovation and investment in bike share continues at an amazing pace, and Seattle has so far been at the center of it all. It’s exciting and unpredictable, with huge potential to dramatically increase the number of trips taken by bike if it is successful. One thing is for sure: I have no idea what bike share story I will be writing this time next year.

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18 Responses to Uber-owned Jump wants to launch its e-bike service in Seattle

  1. asdf2 says:

    In neighborhoods with no bike racks, expect people to lock the Jump bikes to handrails, fences, or whatever is available. And, unlike the Lime bikes, there is no way to move an improperly parked bike yourself without paying $2 for a 10-second “ride” (which would still have to end locked to somebody else’s fence because there is still nowhere proper to park).

    Without a massive citywide investment in more bike racks, I don’t see this working, outside of a few business districts.

    • Stephen says:

      Unlike with the floating bikes though, you can definitively blame the most-recent rider for an improperly locked-up bike. Might make it easier to discourage bad behavior.

      • asdf2 says:

        That’s true. And, it will be interesting to see how strictly this gets enforced. I eventually envision a time when even the Lime bikes enforce parking rules by requiring users to take a picture of the bike with their phones upon completing a trip. I can imagine an AI examining the pictures in real-time, giving the users instant feedback on their parking job. Users who park poorly would be given the choice of either unlocking the bike to repark it (paying for the additional time), or paying a penalty (after a couple of warnings), which would cover the cost for a staff person to come out and move the bike. Of course, to avoid lots of upset users, it can’t happen until the technology becomes very reliable. Still, this may be not as far off as many think.

        That said, I’ve mentioned this before, but if we want people to park bikeshare bikes properly, the city needs to invest in giving people more good places to park (ideally, paid for with fees charged to the bikeshare companies, themselves).

        One problem area is neighborhoods with large amounts of multi-family housing. Traditionally, the city has not bothered to install bike racks in such neighborhoods because people want to park their personal bikes somewhere secure, like a garage or storage room – not out on the street. Bikeshare has suddenly created a need for people in such neighborhoods to park on the street (especially at the bottom of staircases). If people were forced to walk to the nearest commercial area to pick up or return a bike – even if it’s just a few blocks, it would have a big impact on the attractiveness and usage level of the service.

  2. Matt says:

    I was just thinking the other day that there weren’t enough novice bike riders rolling along at 20mph in Seattle’s narrow bike infra.

  3. Peri Hartman says:

    Ditto the above two comments. I fully support getting more e-bikes. But this plan sounds completely impractical and will simply get a lot of people really pissed.

  4. Tim F says:

    The world ends with any and every change involving bicycles. And then it goes on.

  5. Skylar says:

    One hundred years later, and we still haven’t solved the problem of people improperly/illegally parking their automobiles. I find that to be a much bigger problem than improperly parked shared bikes.

    • Peri Hartman says:

      Not sure I follow. Are you saying that it’s a minor issue to have Jump bikes locked to bike racks? Or are you adding a level of inference and saying Jump shouldn’t be so paranoid and simply use the standard dockless model?

  6. asdf2 says:

    I recently bought an electric bike with gears and a 20 mph speed limit. I typically get up to the full 20 mph in wide, low’ish traffic trails (e.g. 520), or when taking a car lane on the street. But, on residential streets or the Burke-Gilman, traffic conditions do not usually allow me to go that fast. In fact, my 9-mile commute all the way from Seattle to Kirkland, is only about 5 minutes faster in my new electric bike than it was on an electric Lime bike (I’ve tried them both).

    I don’t feel a need for bikeshare bikes to go up to 20 mph, and a higher maximum speed could pose safety risks, due to the fact that users of such bikes are disproportionally more likely to be novice riders or lacking helmets. I definitely do not want to see an arms race among bikeshare companies, where they each try to compete with each other by offering faster speeds and motorized acceleration than the competition. The Lime-E speed limit of 14.8 mph is an acceptable speed limit for all electric bikeshare bikes.

    Gears in an electric bike, I can see both arguments. On the one hand, they can be very useful for accelerating from a dead stop while traveling uphill. On the other hand, they add extra components which drive up the manufacturing cost and have to be maintained. And, arguably the most important reason for gears on an electric bike in the first place – pedaling the heavy bike unassisted when the battery is drained – is totally irrelevant to the bikeshare scenario.

  7. Alkibkr says:

    I heard there is a maximum 210 weight limit for use of Jump Bikes. (My hefty sister wanted to try one out in Sacramento but found out she was over the weight limit). That seems kind of restrictive.

  8. Law Abider says:

    They can go 20 mph with the assist, which is five mph faster than Lime-E bikes.

    And illegal on all Seattle and King County trail infrastructure, per the Seattle Parks and Recreation Multi-use Trail Pilot Project, which allows e-bikes up to 15 mph on five select Seattle trails. Electric bikes are still illegal on all other City and County owned trails.

    But this is Uber, who are very well known for knowingly and willingly breaking any and all laws to make a buck. I will be asking my councilmember to reject Uber’s application until they are willing to fully comply with the law.

  9. Tim F says:

    My wife’s been using my 20MPH-class ebike for some rides lately. We took a casual ride with an out-of-town guest on a traditional road bike on the BGT yesterday. I had to bite my tongue because they rode the whole flat five mile trip at 7MPH. The whole time, folks were flying by in aero bar tucks (is there a triathlon coming up?)

    The new rule allows this ebike class on this trail, you just can’t ride it faster than 15MPH. Same goes for tri bikes and plain vanilla bikes.

    We rode home at about 12MPH, and our guest on the road bike was the one setting the faster pace.

  10. Rob says:

    Nothing says you actually need to lock them to anything,,,just operate the lock system when you park it and it is parked, no fence, no traffic sign, no handrail! Easy-peasy!?

    • Stephen says:

      If a bike is found not locked to anything, and you were the last person to rent it, it’ll be clearly your fault and you can be penalized (warning, fine, ban?) appropriately.

      On the flip side, if you park a bike properly with the lock, you can rest assured nobody else will come by and ruin your parking job.

      The more I think about this, the better it sounds.

  11. AW says:

    Any idea how Uber’s investment in Lime is going to change things ? Perhaps the Uber app will allow reserving both Jump and Lime bikes ?

  12. AW says:

    a big element seems to be the ability to fine people who park not correctly. I’m almost sure this will not happen. Just think of the reaction of people! Negative publicity is the last thing uber wants.

    An example is car2go. People using these park often in to away zones. And if the company tries to fine these customers than they get really upset! Result: Car2go pays the bill. See article in the ST
    https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/those-cute-little-smart-cars-get-towed-a-lot-in-seattle-heres-why/

  13. Jacob Mason says:

    Jump bikes seem to work just fine in DC, despite a pretty meager supply of bike racks and still-poor bike infrastructure. In fact, while other dockless companies are leaving, Jump is staying put.

    https://wamu.org/story/18/07/25/two-dockless-bikeshare-companies-left-d-c-citing-tight-regulations/

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