The Coast Guard sees an abandoned bike and treats it the same way it treats an abandoned car — guardsmen start a search-and-rescue response, fearing someone is in the water.
The “sharing economy” is causing some headaches for Washington State Ferries.
First there were the ReachNow BMWs that, brought aboard a ferry, locked up and stalled, reacting as if they were stolen because they were moving but the engine was turned off. That forced modest delays.
Now we’ve got bike-share bikes that people have brought onto a ferry and then left there. That’s forced costly searches and more delays.
The Coast Guard sees an abandoned bike and treats it the same way it treats an abandoned car — guardsmen start a search-and-rescue response, fearing that the rider (or driver) may have fallen overboard.
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That’s what happened on March 31, on a midday sailing from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, the ferry system’s busiest route, causing a delay for the return sailing.
Someone left the ferry but left their bike-share bike onboard. The Coast Guard launched a search team including a helicopter and more than a dozen guardsmen. Helicopter and crew costs totaled more than $17,000, the Coast Guard said.
Nobody had fallen overboard.
A similar situation occurred less than a week later. Someone left their bike (not a bike-share bike) on a ferry in the San Juan Islands, which triggered a search.
That one was called off more quickly, as the person realized they’d left their bike and returned, Ian Sterling, a Ferries spokesman said.
“When a passenger leaves their bicycle on a ferry, it’s the duty of the Coast Guard and ferry personnel to treat it as a potential distress situation until the bicyclist can be confirmed safe,” the Coast Guard said in a prepared statement. “Each individual response can require helicopters, boats and other specialized crews to endanger themselves to search for nonexistent victims.”
It’s happened 12 times in the last 18 months, the Coast Guard said, although only three of those times were bike-share bikes.
The City of Seattle has set rules for the bikes allowing them to be left on city sidewalks.
Sterling said they’ve reached out to all three bike-share companies active in Seattle — LimeBike, ofo and Spin — to ask them to remind users not to leave the bikes on ferries, although they’ll continue to allow the bikes onboard.
“We just want them to know they’re not supposed to do that,” Sterling said. “The ferry is not a sidewalk.”