Half the rental bikes along Seattle roadsides were inoperable because of low batteries or broken parts in September, the city’s latest quarterly audit says.
The inspections affirm what The Seattle Times Traffic Lab reported Sept. 12, when the newspaper’s spot-checking found only 32 of 115 electric bicycles attempted could draw power and unlock.
But the city’s third-quarter audit also contained positive news: a record-high ridership of 750,000 trips from July to September, or 1.6 million in nine months, comparable to a top-10 city bus route.
“They’re starting to recognize that using bike share to get to their destination might be the easiest, most convenient way to get there,” said Joel Miller, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) bike-share manager.
And more people are parking their bikes correctly. Only about 5% obstructed Seattle sidewalks, an improvement from 17% earlier this year, based on the city’s examination of 756 bikes.
“In order to be successful, the bike-share program needs to make it easier for everyone to travel safely. A critical part of this has been making sure that bikes are parked correctly and do not create obstacles for people with disabilities,” spokesman Ethan Bergerson said.
Quarterly findings are published by the Seattle Department of Transportation as a permitting step for Lime’s green bikes and Uber’s red Jump bicycles. Between 6,800 and 7,300 bikes were deployed this summer. In October, the companies reduced their fleets to between 4,900 to 6,100 total bikes in seasonal changes.
For the first time, SDOT reported whether mechanically sound bikes failed due to low batteries or unlocking glitches. In a September check of 147 bicycles, 51% were not rentable — 63.4% of Lime’s and 35.3% of Jump’s.
Historically, about two-thirds of dockless rental bikes are ridable, based on Traffic Lab’s running database of 516 attempts, covering two years and four companies.
Lime attributed its September slump to high Labor Day usage, low staffing due to vacations and backlogs in its Ballard warehouse, where a fire occurred in August.
“Since then, we have been back up to operational standards,” said Lime spokesman Alex Youn in San Francisco. That means reaching the SDOT requirement of 70% usability, he said.
The company also dispatched what it calls Lime patrols to check and relocate bikes that are hindering passage on sidewalks, he said.
The roughly 5% of bikes checked that were obstructing sidewalks still lagged behind city’s 3% goal. Only one bike caused a severe obstruction hazard, defined as leaving “less than four feet of clear pedestrian passage” that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, the city audit says.
About 14% were “incorrectly parked,” including those obstructing, tipped or in landscaped surfaces. Miller cautioned results aren’t definitive, because the randomly picked audit zones covered one-tenth of the city, all north of Interstate 90.
Besides raising awareness, the city installed 1,250 new bike parking spaces, mostly on the roadbed, that provide alternatives to sidewalk parking. David Seater, chair of the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board, praised that effort, and said advocates still worry about blocked walkways, especially as the city considers allowing rental scooters.
“I know I’ve still been moving bikes out of the way when I’m walking around town, but anecdotally it does seem to be less often,” Seater said.
Lime still hopes to add scooters in Seattle, though Miller says plans and permits won’t be ready until spring. The scooters, available in Bothell, Everett, Tacoma and Spokane, are cheaper than bicycles to maintain.
As enforcement actions, SDOT reduced Lime’s fleet quota by 500 bicycles for the low usability rate, and by 20 more for sidewalk obstruction. That still leaves a cap of 3,987 bikes, more than Lime actually keeps on the streets.
Those sanctions follow spring penalties against Jump and Lime for obstructions and inadequate record-keeping.