Geekwire: Lime is adding another 1,500 JUMP bikes in Seattle, bikes now available in Lime app

Screenshot of the Lime app showing bikes available.

Read JUMP bikes can now be checked out via the Lime app.

If you have been having trouble finding a bright red shared JUMP bike around town, relief may be on the way. Lime is planning to quadruple the number of shared e-bikes on Seattle streets from 500 to 2,000 by the end of summer, Geekwire reports.

Lime acquired JUMP in a complicated investment scheme with Uber back in May (wow, that really wasn’t very long ago but it sure feels like an eternity). After Seattle went about a month with no bikes available, Lime launched 500 JUMP bikes in June that were only available for checkout via the Uber app. Now Lime seems to have JUMP fully integrated into its system and is ready to start expanding.

But Lime’s Director of Strategic Development Jonathan Hopkins told Geekwire something the company has been saying a lot recently: The bikes are not a viable business on their own. Lime needs Seattle to allow scooters in addition to bikes in order to make it all pencil out.

The era of private bike share companies and investors losing money to prop up their services may be coming to a close. Scooters have been shown to be more profitable (or at least closer to profitable), though a scooter and a bike are also used in different ways. Lime says they hope to be able to balance both, though with more scooters than bikes. Seattle’s scooter permit has been in process for a long time but is still in limbo.

The incredible roller coaster of a private bike share experiment in Seattle in recent years has taught us so much about the benefits of bike share and the costs associated with it. Bike ridership increased steeply along with bike share, and it continued to climb even as the number of bikes in service decreased or stayed flat. The combination of building new protected bike routes and the availability of on-demand bikes was a clear success, at least from the perspective of a city with transportation, public health and environmental goals that all include increasing bike ridership.

Just because businesses have struggled to make bike share profitable does not mean the experiment has failed. I mean, if you’re a venture capitalist who didn’t get the big return you were hoping for, then yeah, I guess it might have failed. But for the rest of us, we now have a good idea of how many bikes are needed, the benefits and pitfalls of the dockless model, the benefits and challenges of e-bikes compared to pedal-only bikes, and roughly how much subsidy would be needed to run a stable system.

We hope Lime can make this work. Scooters somewhat covering the losses of bikes is an interesting way to keep bike share active. But this system does come at a cost. Lime is charging $1 to unlock a bike plus $0.36 per minute, which is likely too expensive for many people (you can sometimes find $0.15/min bikes if you search around in the app, but Lime said that is an error). This is a significant price hike compared to even last year, but it is likely closer to what they need to make in order to pay for the service if they were to rely on user fees. $0.36 per minute adds up fast, with total bike trip costs surpassing the cost of a pre-COVID transit fare after just five minutes of riding. A lot of people simple cannot afford that, especially right now.

So it seems clear that some other funding source is needed to make a bike share system work, whether that is public funding, on-bike advertising, major sponsorships, being paired with a more profitable venture like scooters, or some other idea we haven’t seen yet. The benefits of bike share are huge and worthwhile, so I hope everyone continues to try new things in search of a sustainable model.

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9 Responses to Geekwire: Lime is adding another 1,500 JUMP bikes in Seattle, bikes now available in Lime app

  1. Peri Hartman says:

    I had been wondering how the bike share company’s financial models could work. I can only make crude guesses at the costs of the bikes, but the e-bikes must be pretty pricey – around $1K in high quantity ?. With the old pricing, even with zero maintenance, it would seem to take a few years to recoup just the purchase price.

    I hope the new pricing is sustainable. Maybe a subsidized system could work, but I see huge public pushback on that, with the public still sore about the poorly run Pronto system.

    I think part of what’s hurting bikeshare is the ubiquity of ride-share. Of course, that’s existed all along, but it’s pretty mature now and the cost for a short trip isn’t much more than renting an e-bike at the new rates, plus you stay dry and it’s safer (at least for many riders).

    Maybe in the future, someone will come up with e-trikes with tiny cabins. I think there was an experiment at UBC but I haven’t read anything about it for a year or so. Something like that has an additional appeal – more visibility to others, better weather protection, and a place to put stuff like groceries.

    • asdf2 says:

      They’ve managed to price the service high enough that riding a shared bike provides essentially zero financial advantage over riding in a car – be it an Uber car with a paid driver, or a Gig car you drive yourself.

      This essentially limits the use case to people who specifically want to cruise around on a bike, but don’t own a bike, and not people who simply want to get from point A to point B.

      Somebody ought to do an experiment an have two people travel between the same points at the same time, one in a Gig car, one in a Jump bike, and see who pays less. My guess is that the Gig car will actually be cheaper because the cost per minute is nearly identical, but in a car, you’re paying for fewer minutes (absent a traffic jam).

      I was originally very excited about bikeshare, but after all the price increases, I no longer see the public benefit. If the business is going to be so bloated that operating a bike costs just as much as operating a car, it is probably contributing negligibly to overall bike ridership, and doesn’t need to exist.

      And, no, I don’t see allowing scooters as the solution. While fine on the Burke-Gilman, people will inevitably use them to bomb down hills, with no helmets, and it’s going to be dangerous. Compared to bikes, scooters are both harder to stop and harder to control at high speeds, so hills are much more dangerous. And at $0.36/min, I hardly see this as a service to the city.

      Nor do I think the city should be funding another Pronto right now, with money in short supply and so much basic bike infrastructure underfunded. We need to focus on the basics, and get more bike lanes/etc. to make riding safer.

      • RossB says:

        “I was originally very excited about bikeshare, but … I no longer see the public benefit.”

        Say that on a national forum and someone is going to guess where you’re from. Seattle, right?

  2. Al Dimond says:

    I’ve registered my skepticism about a lot of this stuff in the past so I won’t rehash but… there’s a new wrinkle here: the notion of profitable scooters subsidizing unprofitable bikes. Assuming the scooters are indeed profitable.

    Why would any company do this? If I was running this company I’d re-invest my scooter profits into expansion of my scooter network! Even if I cared more about urban mobility than profit, the (assumed) profitability of scooters is (would be) meaningful, standing in for the reasons it works. It would mean they’re providing a benefit to a lot of people, and that maintenance costs aren’t unreasonable.

    What they want is scooters. They want us to pressure the city for scooters. The cost is a guarantee that they’ll maintain an unprofitable bike fleet. And the elected leaders will want credit from us for that next election.

    Well I’m as corruptible as the next guy, but I’m not being bought for that. Let scooters run on their own merits. They even have some merits over bikes for this purpose — they take up less space, they’re easier to transport and maintain, they’re easier to move out of the way of the sidewalks and trails they block. There are real questions about the gig labor model, and about the sidewalk environment where most trips will take place.

    Do those things change because they’re funding a bike fleet that will certainly be unprofitable? Just as the profitability of scooters would stand in for the reasons they work, the unprofitability of bikeshare stands in for the reasons it doesn’t. Underutilization, the expense of the vehicles, the physical difficulty and stubbornly high frequency of maintenance.

    In short, it sure doesn’t look like, “the era of private bike share companies and investors losing money to prop up their services [is] coming to a close.” This is just the next stage, the next gamble. It’s thousands more bikes, each with a battery and a motor, that will all end up in landfills shockingly soon.

    • RossB says:

      Yep — right you are. It is a combination of cheap venture capital chasing the next bonanza, and tech companies going after the data. So now they will know where scooter riders like to go, as well as where bike riders like to go. Somebody will likely pay way too much for all of that, until of course, it all collapses like the price of Dutch tulips in the seventeenth century.

      All the while Seattle waits for someone with some sense to implement what is proven to work across the country. Lots of docks, close together, across the city, subsidized by the city.

  3. RossB says:

    “But for the rest of us, we now have a good idea of how many bikes are needed, the benefits and pitfalls of the dockless model, the benefits and challenges of e-bikes compared to pedal-only bikes, and roughly how much subsidy would be needed to run a stable system.”

    But we already knew all that by looking at other cities across the country. From Boston to Portland Oregon, we know what works and what doesn’t. Yet somehow, this city experimented with things we know won’t work. Maybe it was because the Kubly/Murray administration was corrupt and/or incompetent. Maybe because the Durkan administration knew as much about biking as they did about policing (very little). Regardless, nothing in this city is unusual. We knew, based on the science (https://nacto.org/walkable-station-spacing-is-key-to-successful-equitable-bike-share/) what is needed for a successful bikeshare system. All that remains is the political will to copy other cities, and implement it.

    Nothing has changed; we’ve just wasted a lot of time chasing our tail, while helping companies gather some data and waste venture capital.

    • asdf2 says:

      I get what you’re saying, but what you’re asking for is politically impossible. The conservative wing of the city council won’t go for it because it costs money, would displace parking, and there’s no guarantee that people will ride it, and people in west Seattle don’t want to pay taxes for bikeshare downtown. The liberal wing won’t go for it either because the parts of town with the highest demand aren’t helpful in achieving their social justice goals. Who’s left?

      And, even then, you’ve still got to fight the pitched battles with adjacent property owners who don’t want a docking station at the spots where it would be most effective. Realistically, it’s not happening.

  4. Amy C says:

    What happened to the low-income program that Jump was doing (called “Boost”)? I was able to check out a Jump bike as recently as July 22, 2020 with my Uber app, but now it doesn’t work. Trying to contact either Lime or Uber so-called customer service is a joke. Of course neither had the courtesy to let users know the low-income program wasn’t continuing, if in fact that’s what’s happening.

  5. Question Mark says:

    All the bikes were removed from Seattle last winter to be “re-branded.” Yet the bikes are back, now operated by Lime, and all look *exactly the same.* (With an increased rental charge of course, which matches the electric scooter rental charge now in place to rent scooters in White Center.)

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