Lime and JUMP raise prices, city revokes 2,000 bike permits

Photo of a row of Lime and JUMP on the sidewalk of 2nd Ave Ext just north of Jackson Street.Seattle’s ongoing experiment with private, free-floating bike share has changed the landscape for biking in the city, helping to raise city bike counts to record heights.

Bike share in Seattle has been unprecedentedly successful at increasing the raw number of bike trips taken in this city and growing the number of people who now consider biking as a transportation option for some trips or as a way to access transit.

The way the bike share services work has been evolving quickly and dramatically since launching in 2017. First there were $1 per ride pedal-only bikes from Spin, Lime and ofo. Then ofo and Spin left while Lime transitioned to e-assist bikes with an additional $0.15 per-minute rate. Then Uber’s JUMP brought their e-assist bikes and undercut Lime in price by charging the same $0.15 per minute, but without the $1 unlock fee.

The mid-2018 departure of ofo and Spin meant a significant reduction in the total bikes on the streets (nearly 10,000 in early 2018 vs 5,000 to 7,000 in early 2019) along with the increase in price due to the switch to e-assist bikes. SDOT data shows these changes did reduce the number of rides in the first quarter of 2019 compared to 2018:

graph comparing January, February and March 2018 bike share trips to 2019. January was about the same. February 2019 was much lower. March 2019 was a bit lower.

Note that February 2019 was very snowy, so that big decline is likely a bit of an outlier. Graph from the Quarter 1 2019 bike share progress report (PDF).

Neither Lime nor JUMP have gotten close to hitting their permit limits of 6,667 bikes each. So current bike levels are unlikely to be affected by Seattle taking action against the companies for improperly reporting bike parking issues. As the Seattle Times’ Heidi Groover reported, the city penalized the companies by revoking 1,000 bike permits each.

Meanwhile, both Lime and JUMP have increased their per-minute rates to $0.25, which makes bike share less competitive by price compared to other options.

In summer 2017, a 30-minute bike share ride (without an electric assist option) would have cost $1. Today, it would cost $7.50 on JUMP or $8.50 on Lime (though with electric assist). Sure, the $1 fare was artificially low as companies competed intensely to gain users. Perhaps these prices are what is needed to make the business sustainable (companies don’t share that kind of information). But an up to 750% cost increase is pretty dramatic. For some trips, that could be more than the cost to hail a car, especially if there are multiple people. For people using these bikes every day, this could add up quickly.

The cost hikes come as companies are shifting focus nationally from bikes to scooters. The hikes also happened just before Lyft is supposed to launch their bike share service in Seattle (currently scheduled for “summer 2019,” according to SDOT).

Would a Lyft launch bring more competition and lower prices? Or are the days of very low-cost bike share rides over for good? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

One thing is certain: Seattle’s bike (and someday scooter?) share services will keep changing.

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32 Responses to Lime and JUMP raise prices, city revokes 2,000 bike permits

  1. vsa says:

    No they are gone for good.
    And lots of thanks go to the SCC with quite huge fees they impose on the providers, which of course is being passed on the users.
    And scooters are even more expensive.
    For me it’s cheaper to ride Uber/Lyft now, than to bike, and I won’t have to sweat.
    Bus during daytime is now a much more competitive option, especially for slightly longer distances.
    I simply see no reason anymore to use those and I definitely see significantly fewer people on BG riding those bikes, compared to even March and April.

    • Ballard Biker says:

      No clue what you are talking about. May and June have seen a massive increase in bikeshare users on the BGT.

      Of course, both of our statements are anecdotal and we’ll see when they release usage numbers.

  2. asdf2 says:

    I haven’t ridden Lime at all since the latest price increase. It’s just not worth it. I’ve mostly gone back to the old fashioned approach of riding my own bike and locking it up to a rack. When it’s not available, I walk, ride a bus, or ride a Lyft or Uber car.

    The narrow case where I’m still willing to consider Lime would be for trips where I’m in a hurry, willing to pay to save time, and are short enough to make a Lime bike faster than Uber (due to wait time and traffic), yet long enough to make Lime faster than simply jogging. Such trips don’t come up that often.

  3. R says:

    Everyone should have aware that the number of trips metrics are suspect because until recently zero distance trips were being counted separately (ie. problems unlocking).

  4. BR says:

    Jump bikes at that rate are still worth it for short hilly rides, especially if no bus competes with the route. Lime, however, isn’t, as their bikes suck by comparison and can’t climb like Jump’s can.

  5. bryan willman says:

    One wonders if politicians want to force traffic away from lime/jump/etc (and uber and lyft) onto government operated buses, trains, and more closely regulated taxis? (Or whether they maybe just have this effect.)

    One also wonders if politics aside, there will end up being, practically, a “minimum trip cost” – you either pay a lot to have a car, pay bus fairs, pay a lot to live close enough to walk – but one way or another almost everybody pays. A sort of “concentration tax”….

    • Adam says:

      There’s still riding your own bike. If you buy a cheap second-hand one (I have a Kona DEW I got for $380), it’s the most cost-effective transportation option around.

      Seattle is quite good in that all the buses have bike racks. That opens up multi-modal possibilities for longer distances, even without e-assist.

  6. Bruce Burger says:

    The city’s fee, if spread evenly across the year, accounted for an average of 30 cents per ride in March. (Less as ridership increases and since March probably has fewer rides than the average month.) That’s probably less than 10% of the average ride. So while one can question the fairness of that fee, it’s probably not a big factor in the cost increase or the ridership decrease. The subsidies given to buses and cars pose a bigger challenge to share bikes.

    Also, a small math correction: an increase from $1.00 to $8.50 is an increase of 750%, not 850%.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Ah, fixed it. Thanks.

    • Ballard Biker says:

      The fee increase is because most bikeshare companies monetize user data collection. For Lime and Uber, that source of money has probably plateaued, so they’re raising fees. At least they are sticking around, versus Ofo and Spin, which took the money (and data) and ran.

  7. I really miss those old Spin bikes. They were great and far cheaper than this e-assist things. The price increase is a shame ($.25 is just too high), it will just mean that people won’t use them as much

  8. Tim F says:

    I was just in Washington DC and it was interesting to see established docked bike share, Jump dockless ebikes, many shared e-scooter brands all in regular use.

  9. asdf2 says:

    I wonder if this is the beginning of the end of corporate-sponsored bikeshare in Seattle. I suspect the companies are finally starting to run low on money, and are raising prices in a desperate attempt to stem the bleeding cash flow – well aware that they are losing customers while doing so (and cutting back on the number of bikes accordingly).

    I’ve been doing some reading about this, and there are fundamental problems to the bikeshare business model. Unlike with the old pedal bikes, the need to keep batteries charged requires a constant labor burden of paying people to chase after the bikes in cars and swap out batteries. So, as soon as bike leaves a small “hub” area with tons of other bikes, every mile someone travels on one of the bikes means a mile that someone else has to be paid to drive in a car to chase after the bike and swap out the batteries. Meanwhile, the new scooters, the charging/labor problem is worse, since the batteries don’t last a long, and they have an amazingly short shelf life – after just one month out on the street with heavy use, they need to be replaced.

    Meanwhile, cities are asking the bikeshare companies to do the impossible with regards to policing parking.

    On top of this, Lime’s carshare business is probably losing money as well. Not only are they charging significantly less than Car2Go/ReachNow (for now, to gain market share), but they seem to have no controls as to where people can return them. A quick glance at the Lime app suggests people are driving the Lime cars to the airport, parking them in the garage which costs $28/day, leaving Lime stuck with the bill for however many days it is until they send somebody over to retrieve the car. (Of course, no customer is going to drive one of those cars out of the airport because they don’t want to pay the hundreds of dollars in parking charges already accumulated).

    It is possible that, in spite of all this, bikeshare may still be profitable if it is limited to a few handpicked neighborhoods with the highest demand, but I’m somewhat skeptical, given that not just one, but both ends of a trip have to be within the service area for the service to be of any use. I can easily see that, if nothing is done, Seattle will go back to no bikeshare at all within another year or two.

    So, this brings the question of where to go from here? We’ve already proven that publicly-financed docked systems don’t work because there will never be enough docks to make it convenient to use (since each and every dock must survive the Seattle process and costs tens of thousands of dollars to install). And, it looks like dockless systems aren’t sustainable without public subsidies either. In fact, about the only forms of transportation that have proven to be profitable (besides sales and service of personal vehicles) have been airlines and cruise ships.

    • RossB says:

      “We’ve already proven that publicly-financed docked systems don’t work because there will never be enough docks to make it convenient to use (since each and every dock must survive the Seattle process and costs tens of thousands of dollars to install).”

      Have we really? Is there something unusual about Seattle that makes it different than every other city that has a successful docking bikeshare system? I’m sure like every other problem this city deals with, there will be people saying so (we are so unique, like a precious snowflake — one in a million I tell you).

      Or maybe the folks in charge just blew it. They came out with an underfunded, poorly managed system, and then through it away as soon as they ran across a problem. They then jumped to the hot new thing (Dockless! Dockless is the future!). Now people are obsessed with scooters (Scooters! Scooters are the future!). Meanwhile, old docked systems (in places like Boston) and new docked systems (in places like Portland) seem to moving along just fine.

      • asdf2 says:

        The inherent problem of a docked system that each and every place where you can return a bike has to be not only formally approved by city officials, but contain enough demand to be worth the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to physically install the docking station. If the bikes are to be electric, the wiring to connect the battery chargers to the power grid would further increase the cost of each and every dock.

        On top of this, NIMBY objections are going to be nearly inevitable, especially if the only way to make room for a dock to park the bikes is to remove a parking space on the street.

        Another big annoyance of Pronto was the creation of unnecessary vertical gaps between the trail infrastructure and the docking stations due to bureaucracy. For instance, in the Montlake Triangle, the UW didn’t cooperate in getting a station on top of the triangle – an easy ride to the Burke-Gilman, so the station had to go on Pacific Street, down below, where getting any bike in or out of the station required walking the bike up or down a wheelchair ramp. (You couldn’t ride a bike up or down the ramp because it was too narrow and the switchbacks were too tight). I don’t have a whole lot of confidence that a Pronto 2.0 would fix this either.

        And the funding issue is very real, too. For example, according to Google, the land area of the city of Seattle is 83.78 square miles. If we want a dock every 1/4 mile throughout the city (which is still, not great coverage), that’s 16 docks per square mile. At $10,000/station, that translates to about $13.4 million dollars, just to install the docking stations. If the city is to have an average of ten bikes per station at $300/bike, that’s an addition $4 million to buy the bikes, bringing the total up-front investment to $17.4 million.

        This is enough money (which doesn’t even include recurring operations cost) that one has to ask if there are better things the city could do with it – such as simply building more bike lanes.

        Of course, the docked bikeshare systems elsewhere in the country are *not* city-wide. But, cherry-picking the areas highest demand would mean focusing on corridors like SLU, Fremont, U-district, the Burke-Gilman corridor between the U-district and Ballard, essentially neglecting the entire southern half of the city. (This is not surprising – it’s the stark reality that people want to bike on trails, not on the street, and certainly not on busy streets like Rainier Ave.). For racial equity reasons, it is plainly obvious that the Seattle city council would never accept such a map, so funding from areas of higher demand would have to be diverted to areas of lower demand, until the whole system starts to break down.

        And, of course, the political will to allocate $17 million of taxpayer dollars to bikesharing is just not there after the Pronto debacle. The council members no that if they tried to do it, they would get voted out very quickly.

  10. Ballard Biker says:

    While Seattle’s “punishment” makes a slap on the wrist look harsh, at least they are acknowledging that there’s a problem with improperly parked bikes. It’d be nice if Seattle would actually make Lime and Uber to show some corporate responsibility (haha, right?) and encourage their users to be better about parking their bikes. The situation isn’t as bad as Komo’s sensationalist “new” clip, but it’s a major annoyance on already crowded spaces.

    • asdf2 says:

      They do encourage you to park correctly. But, short of hiring an army of attendants to watch everyone park, it’s unenforceable. The high per minute rate also doesn’t help things. It effectively penalizes you for taking the time to look for a proper place to park vs. just dumping the bike at the first place you find.

      And, even if it were enforceable, there is still the problem that, in many neighborhoods, “proper” parking is impossible because sufficiently wide sidewalks do not exist. Are people supposed to park a mile away, at the nearest sidewalk with a furniture zone, and order an Uber to take them that last mile?

      • Dave R says:

        Don’t the bikeshare companies know where there bikes are at all times? And who is riding them? Seems that they could use this info for enforcement.

        One solution would be to allow/require bikeshare bikes to park in automobile parking spaces. Works for carshare.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        The GPS isn’t accurate enough to know if a bike is parked in the furniture zone or blocking the walkway. That’s a difference of a couple feet or even just the orientation of the bike. The other problem is that bikes can be moved or knocked over by non-users (or wind). So a blocking bike might have been parked correctly by its most recent user. Some services require users to take photos of the bikes after they park them, which could be a way of enforcing/educating users who park incorrectly.

        Agree about on-street parking.

      • Kristina says:

        A follow on to Tom’s comment below. I have seen a woman go over to a row of properly parked bike and push each one of them over. This is along Jackson St and 2nd. I tried to get her attend and tell her to knock it off but she didn’t care.

      • Ballard Biker says:

        Taking a picture would certainly be a start. Both Lime and Uber are required to have a hotline to report illegally parked bikes. I’ve tested them both and neither resulted in an improperly parked bike being moved. There’s also zero transparency or paper trail for either reporting system, which are run by the respective companies.

        I would suggest that any bikeshare companies are required to sync up with Find It, Fix It, which is Seattle’s great problem reporting app. Instead of a worthless phone number, you report an improperly parked bike on FI/FI. You could track the companies response, if any.

        Another issue that hasn’t been talked about is not users leaving bikes improperly parked, but the companies staging bikes improperly. Over the winter, there was a case where about a dozen Lime bikes were staged perfectly all in a row…on the sidewalk portion of the Westlake trail in that trapezoidal swerve where boats are sometimes parked. The next day, somebody had tipped them over like dominoes.

    • Skylar says:

      Can we ban cars from the city if we hit a threshold of improperly-parked vehicles, where the manufacturers are responsible for dealing with them? I would be in favor of that.

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  12. BikesPlease says:

    I used http://www.metrovelo.fr/ for bike rental in Grenbole, France. $3 a day with a $200 deposit. Bikes come with multiple locks etc. and worked well. The bikes appeared to be widely used. This seems like a reasonable model.

  13. Cory says:

    My partner and I rode a jump from belltown to Chinooks and back. 16 each way. Not much less than an Uber.

    • vsa says:

      If there are two of you, Any kind of car sharing _is_ much cheaper now.
      Unless you do it as an exercise just doesn’t make sense…

  14. Aaron McEvoy says:

    I hope Seattle keeps enforcing the rules and hold the companies liable. They are a hazard for everyone when they are improperly parked. They need to have dedicated parking areas for these junk bikes and scooters.

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  17. asdf2 says:

    Another interesting quirk in Lime’s pricing. Because the Lime cars have discounted flat rates that kick in at intervals like 1 hour, 2 hours, etc. (to compete with Car2Go/ReachNow), and the bikes don’t (every minute is an additional $0.25 without limit), a 2-hour Lime bike rental actually costs *more* than a two-hour Lime car rental. This is nuts. Renting a bike should not cost more than renting a car for the same amount of time. Bikes are supposed to be a *budget* alternative to cars.

    I am actually somewhat surprised the city of Seattle hasn’t pushed back on these latest price increases. After all, if the city is going to allow the companies to use its space to store their bikes, it seems fair that the bikes be priced at a level that allows the taxpayers of the city to use them on a regular basis, rather than at a level that only out-of-town tourists are going to be willing to pay.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      This is the downside to private bike share. When the city stopped pursuing pursuing public bike share, it also gave up control over this kind of stuff. A private company can charge whatever it wants. For a couple years, this worked out great, since prices were artificially low with no public subsidy required. But the city can’t really force companies to maintain those low startup prices for everyone.

      These price hikes do make the companies’ low income pricing programs much more appealing for folks who qualify (including all ORCA Lift card holders).

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