Satisfied with the initial rollout of LINK’s scooter fleet, Seattle could soon allow the company to expand from 500 to 2,000 gray and yellow standing scooters in West Seattle and in parts of south and southeast Seattle.
“As long as things keep going smoothly and no issues arise, we will likely approve LINK’s requested growth,” said Ethan Bergerson, a spokesperson for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). The expansion could start by the end of January.
Lime, the black and green standing scooters, which launched in Seattle this September, is permitted to operate 500 scooters and the 2,000 red JUMP bikes. Wheels, with its black and white seated scooters, is permitted to operate 500 scooters.
As LINK prepares to expand in the city, the company is offering essential workers who qualify a $50 credit for free scooter rides.
Workers in the health care, education, public transit, janitorial and food services industries can apply for the one-time credit by submitting proof of employment and attaching a photo of their work badge, identification card or pay stub — with personal information hidden. LINK will approve or reject each person’s request within one week.
During Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order this spring, the bike rental company JUMP offered free, 30-minute rides for essential workers.
LINK’s program was created to help the 360,000 people in Seattle whose jobs are considered essential to get to work, but it is not monitoring where trips end. For example, a hospital worker could use the credit to make trips to the grocery store.
Depending on the trip distances, the $50 credit could cover between six and 14 trips, said Paul White, a spokesperson for the company.
The amount was modeled off the 50 euros credit set in Rome, where the free-ride program first launched. No one hit the cap in Rome, but if an essential worker in Seattle reached the limit and found that riding a scooter was working, that person could request more credit, Meredith Starkman, another LINK spokesperson, said.
“For someone who thought scootering was never for them, this is an opportunity for them to try it out and see,” Starkman said.
About one-third of essential workers, including people who work in hospitals, grocery stores, assisted living facilities, public safety and waste management, commuted to work by transit in 2018, according to census data compiled by TransitCenter, a national transit-research organization.
White said scooters could serve as a supplement for someone getting to their bus stop or a ferry terminal. The average length of a scooter trip in Seattle is 1.5 miles, he said.
This is a one-time offer, but “if there is sufficient demand, if people are finding it as valuable service, and if COVID continues to be a challenge, we’ll likely continue it,” White said.
Seattle launched its scooter share program this fall, following years of discussion about how to deploy scooters safely, equitably and without causing a nuisance. The three companies that qualified, LINK, Lime and Wheels, were allowed to distribute 500 scooters initially.
Companies may grow their fleet up to 2,000 scooters if they meet safety, equity, accessibility and parking standards. Banned on sidewalks, scooters may only be ridden in bike lanes and on streets. Helmets are required.
Like Seattle’s bike-rental regulations, at least 10% of each company’s scooters must be placed in neighborhoods that are home to many people of color, immigrants and people with low incomes.
Lime failed to meet that requirement for its bikes in 2019, deploying just 3% to 7% of its bikes in equity areas each month, according to an SDOT report.
About 10,000 LINK trips have been recorded since October, according to preliminary data provided to the city. Riders have made about 68,000 trips via Lime scooters since September. The city is still working to gather data from Wheels, Bergerson said.