Bike and scooter share services are more popular than ever in Seattle, and the number of rides in 2023 eclipsed even the wild days of $1 bikes back in 2017 and 2018. According to SDOT data based on real-time reporting from all permitted companies, people took 5.1 million trips on shared scooters and bikes in 2023, a 28% increase over 2022 and a 70% increase over the days of $1 pedal bikes in 2017-2018.
The bulk of the growth came from Lime, which has been the most popular and consistent service ever since Seattle started its experiment with dockless bike share in 2017. Lime represented about half of all trips in 2022, but they went on a tear in 2023 and increased their share to 64% of trips. This increase is perhaps even more surprising since the company also increased prices by about 8¢ per minute. It now costs $1 to unlock plus 44¢ per minute for an e-bike, which brings the cost of a 30-minute ride to $14.20.
Lime’s growth comes as its competitors struggle. Bird finally filed their long-anticipated bankruptcy last month. Bird is still operational, and the company says it hopes to continue operating after bankruptcy. Bird is the only company other than Lime to offer a proper bike share option. Veo, which operates a sit-down style scooter that technically counts as a bike, saw a decrease in rides from 425,500 in 2022 to 309,900 in 2023.
But perhaps most concerning for scooter riders is that Superpedestrian has officially shut down service in the U.S. after collapsing in 2023. The company shut off access to its LINK scooters December 26. LINK was the second-most popular service after Lime with 716,500 rides in 2023, down from 960,300 rides in 2022 when it rivaled Lime for the top scooter provider spot. Unlike Bird’s years-long decline, Superpedestrian’s collapse happened without much warning.
Lime, meanwhile, says its increased ridership in Seattle and in its other markets has put the company in a better financial position. “Our year-over-year revenue growth and ability to operate profitably are strong signals for the long-term viability of Lime’s business,” said Lime CEO Wayne Ting in a press release from September following a strong summer. As a private company, the full picture of Lime’s finances are not publicly available. In February 2023, the company celebrated 2022 as their first “full profitable year.” Given the reported growth in ridership in 2023, Lime could emerge as the first stable bike and scooter share company since this wild venture-capital-fueled experiment began six and a half years ago. We have seen some dramatic rises and collapses (some of which I document in my book Biking Uphill in the Rain), and Lime’s success has never been assured. The company’s Seattle warehouse caught fire in 2019, and then Uber sort of forced Lime to acquire its JUMP e-bike service in 2020 as part of an investment deal that valued Lime 80% lower than previous investment rounds. It felt a bit like Uber was daring Lime to either make bike share work or die trying. Things felt very shaky at many points, especially for the bike part of the business. Now, Lime seems to have emerged as the undisputed leader with its mixed bike and scooter fleets. The Verge reports that “Lime is positioning itself for a possible IPO,” or “initial public offering” as a traded stock. To do so, they will need to open up their books. And as competitors like Bird have demonstrated, an IPO is not a guarantee of longterm stability.
So is all this good or bad news for bike and scooter riders? The big ridership totals are certainly good news because that’s more people biking and scooting around our city. And Lime highlighted Seattle’s “commitment to building infrastructure for getting around on two wheels” as part of the reason ridership has increased, according to a December press release about its Seattle market successes. It may have also helped that Lime ridership hit a single-day record high of 22,500 trips by 13,000 people when Taylor Swift was in town.
But less competition could also prove to be a bad thing for riders, and it’s not a great sign that so many other companies in the industry are struggling. This market has always been heading toward an inevitable consolidation process, but a healthy industry has more than one player. Perhaps we’ll finally see Lyft bring its scooters and bikes to Seattle to give Lime some proper competition. Or perhaps Bird, which acquired Spin in September the same week Bird stock was delisted by the New York Stock Exchange, emerges from bankruptcy with plans to properly invest in Seattle. Spin was among the first bike share companies to operate in Seattle in 2017 before pivoting to scooters entirely and leaving the city. But they launched a new model of e-bike before being acquired by Bird, so maybe that will emerge as part of their post-bankruptcy strategy. We’ll see. Or maybe Veo will bring its Halo model of bike to Seattle, which features a saddle you can actually adjust to fit your height and pedals that are actually useful. Veo has also teased an intriguing two-person sit-down scooter “for safe tandem riding and cargo hauling” that could shake things up.
This feels like the conclusion of a chapter in this Seattle bike and scooter share story, and Lime seems to have won this electrification phase. But I’m sure the saga is not over yet.