An electric bike with a dead battery is useless to a would-be renter. Rather than a fleet waiting to serve, a clutter of uncharged e-bikes is a public nuisance, taking up valuable public space.
Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) officials have been clear that the free-floating electric bike program is a work in progress. For the most part, they have done a good job outlining clear roles and responsibilities for licensed vendors. But it’s time to tighten the reins.
Electric rental bikes can be a valuable part of a multimodal transportation system that meets the needs of Seattle’s growing population.
But only if they actually work.
The Seattle Times Traffic Lab reported last week it took a reporter 23 tries to find a ridable Lime bike along Pike Street and Eighth Avenue on a recent Friday. The following Monday, the reporter found 13 Lime bikes and three of six Jump bikes were without power along the waterfront from Olympic Sculpture Park to Interbay. A Lime spokesman blamed the company’s inoperable cycles on heavy Labor Day holiday usage and fewer staff — well more than a week after the fact.
But while the volume of unusable e-bikes may have been unusual, the fact is Seattle’s electric bike rental experience continues to be bumpy, with improperly parked and inoperable bikes cluttering sidewalks, impeding the right of way.
Seattle transportation staff say they are finalizing permit requirements for 2020 and intend to begin the application period for next year’s permits within the next two months.
Current permits require vendors to ensure that at least 70% of their e-bikes are properly parked — upright on hard surfaces — with no more than 3% blocking sidewalks, crosswalks or streets. Vendors are required to maintain and ensure at least 70% of their fleet is in good working order, and that no more than 10% has safety-related maintenance issues. Vendors must share equipment, maintenance and usage data with the city and disclose collisions, injuries and property damage. They must be available to the public by phone, text and email, and respond to reports.
If vendors fail to meet the standards, the city can reduce the number of e-bikes the vendor can operate — a power it has exercised at least two times this year. In April, SDOT reduced Lime and Jump’s maximum fleet size after the vendors submitted inaccurate and incomplete customer-service records. The following months, both fleets were further reduced for ADA-prohibited obstructions and other hazards.
To restore order to the sidewalks, the city has vowed to create 1,500 new bike parking spaces this year. By the end of July, the city had installed 779 bike parking spaces this year, with another 149 scheduled, according to the bike-share program’s most recent monthly status report.
City officials should consider whether other sanctions or requirements would help bring vendors into greater compliance. Riders clearly are finding e-bikes useful (by the end of July, riders had taken nearly 1.2 million trips this year), but systemwide improvements are needed.
Transportation officials are conducting community discussions about a potential scooter pilot project that could launch next spring. Before it does, the city should be sure that e-bike vendors are consistently meeting high standards.
GIVE BIKE-SHARE FEEDBACK
To report a broken or improperly parked e-bike:
JUMP (red): 1-833-300-6106; firstname.lastname@example.org
Lime (green): 1-888-546-3345; email@example.com
To comment on the Seattle Free-Floating Bike Share Program: