Where the pedals fall: What Monday’s bike share ruling means

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On Monday Seattle city leaders decided to make the bike-share program that’s taken over the city official — and now the bright bikes that litter sidewalks across the city will look a little different.

To start, some history: Once introduced last year, the dockless bike share program took off. Before long Seattle had 1,000 bikes, and was expanding to surrounding areas, thanks to the fact that the city had some 22 percent of the nation’s bike-share bikes — which now clocked in closer to 10,000 in Seattle.




The free-floating bikes came in three flavors, Ofo (yellow), Limebike (green), and Spin (orange). They could all be picked up and discarded alongside sidewalks, and ridden for the relatively low price of about $1 per 30 minutes of use.

But — despite the program’s massive success — the program was just a one-year pilot program; part of a sunset clause that felt more prescient following the city’s $1.4 million investment in the failed, docked-bike share Pronto.


RELATED: New Seattle bike shares put Pronto to shame



So Monday’s City Council meeting was mostly to confirm what everyone knew; bike-shares are doing great in the city, and Seattle should pass legislation which makes the program permanent. The council passed this legislation unanimously, allowing up to four companies to operate in the city.

Each company will pay $250,000 for the right to wheel up to 5,000 bikes around the Seattle.

Which wasn’t exactly what bike companies wanted to hear. Though Seattle has been a leader in dockless bike-share program, serving as an example for similar set-ups around the country, we’ve also had some of the highest permit fees in the U.S. And at least one bike company has already chosen to not stay in Seattle’s growing bike haven.

Ofo, a Chinese company, announced they would not be applying for a permit under the new permanent program, and they would be shutting down Seattle, along with other U.S. cities.


Where bike-share money goes

Where will the money from the bike-share permits go? Glad you asked:

-Each bike company will pay roughly $50 per bike, with a limit of 5,000 bikes in the city (or a dollar cap of $250,000).

-Seattle’s Department of Transportation will use fee revenue to administer the program, conduct audits twice per year (looking for proper bike parking, etc.), and build 200 new bike-parking corrals throughout the city.

-A Monday amendment also forbids SDOT from spending more than $500,000 of the revenue until the agency has developed a written plan for enforcing bike parking rules — a struggle for both pedestrians and non-bike-share riders alike.


“We appreciate the efforts of City Council and SDOT in crafting new requirements for dockless bike share in Seattle,” a statement from Ofo said. “The exorbitant fees that accompany these new regulations — the highest in the country — make it impossible for Ofo to operate and effectively serve our riders, and as a result, we will not be seeking a permit to continue operating in Seattle.

“We’re incredibly disappointed to be leaving the first U.S. city to welcome Ofo and thank the city for its partnership and support this last year.”

Of the two pre-existing bike shares, only Limebike has confirmed it will be staying in Seattle, citing high demand in Seattle. Spin has still not publicly announced their plans, and has not responded to a request for comment. Jump, Uber’s bike-share company, has also expressed interest in expanding in Seattle, pending approval from SDOT for e-bike speeds.

However, the permitting change isn’t the only challenge facing the bike shares. Some reports have mentioned that the next round of tariffs from the White House may take aim at GPS units, e-bikes and e-bike motors, many of which are manufactured in China.

RELATED: Bike-share headaches: Not just a Seattle problem

The items are on a list of hundreds of products that could be subject to a 25 percent import tax, which could potentially put a damper on the growth of e-bike adoption in Seattle and the rest of the U.S. — something surely tied to the expansion of dockless bike shares throughout the country.

U.S. Trade Representatives won’t finalize the items that the tariff will be applied to for a few months, but should the bike industry get drafted into the trade war, prices for the bikes themselves could go up. As Bicycle Retailer cites, some brands say that $1,000 e-bikes could see as much as $750 increase on the sales floor.

Limebike, at least, remains committed to the program in Seattle.


“Trade policies that raise costs for riders and hurt potential job creation are detrimental to advancing smart transportation solutions. Lime remains committed to providing affordable mobility options to the more than 70 communities where we operate across the United States and around the world,” Mary Caroline Pruitt, communications manager for Limebike, said.

“We look forward to engaging key stakeholders on behalf of the Lime community to advocate for policies that ensure our innovative industry can continue to invest rapidly in the economic success of American cities.”

That growth should be aided by the other (non-binding) resolution passed by the Seattle City Council on Monday, setting firm deadlines for the city to build a other long-planned bike lanes through downtown.

By the end of 2019, bike riders can pedal on new lanes including Eighth Avenue, Ninth Avenue North, and 12th Avenue South.


“The city has postponed and delayed various aspects of this a number of times, to the frustration of many in the community including myself,” Councilmember Mike O’Brien said. “This is an ambitious set of plans, but there’s no obstacle we don’t see a way to overcome.”

SeattlePI reporter Zosha Millman can be reached at [email protected] Follow Zosha on Twitter at @zosham. Find more from Zosha here on her author page.





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