Lime says it will take its green rental bikes off Seattle streets until at least April, while the company negotiates with the city over potential 2020 scooter and bicycle permits.
The company says it will announce the rollback and notify customers Tuesday morning, then remove its approximately 2,000 bicycles here by Dec. 31, when its current city permit expires.
“As we head into the winter season, we have already reduced our operations based on demand,” said Lime spokesman Alex Youn. “We are committed to working with the City of Seattle to create a robust mobility program that includes free-floating scooters and improved bike options beginning in the spring. In the interim, we are removing our bike fleet.”
Lime is allowed to operate a total of 3,950 bicycles in Seattle. The firm decided not to seek a temporary three-month permit to distribute bikes in the low-use season. The company already removed a small fleet of green bikes in Bellevue and said it did not plan to continue bike rental services in that city.
Lime customers who prepaid for bicycle trips may seek refunds or information by emailing email@example.com, contacting Lime through the phone app, or can wait to spend those dollars for spring scooter and bike trips. Bike-rental rates this fall averaged 30 to 40 cents per minute for normal trips of 1 to 2 miles.
Lime has struggled to consistently maintain its bikes in recent months, Seattle Times records show, especially in early September when fewer than one-third of the bikes tried by Traffic Lab had enough battery power to unlock. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) found the same problem during a September audit.
Rival bikes by Jump, part of ride-hailing giant Uber, performed better but still fell short of Seattle’s requirement that 70% of the bikes be rideable. Jump obtained a three-month temporary permit to maintain bike service this winter, and owns a fleet of 3,500 bikes here, said spokesman Nathan Hambley. “We have no plans of scaling back operations going into 2020,” he said. Jump is also optimistic about adding its scooters in Seattle, he said.
The companies (and their customers) are doing better at keeping sidewalks clear of parked rental bikes, but the city’s audit still found they missed permitting standards requiring that fewer than 3% of the bikes obstruct pedestrians.
San Francisco-based Lime, just over two years old, has announced that continued venture capital funding raised its value to $2.4 billion this fall. It previously offered rental cars in Seattle, but said in September it would shut down that service here by the end of this year.
It’s no secret the company is shifting from bikes to scooters, which are cheaper to maintain because they are lighter weight and can run several days on a battery charge.
Lime scooters have arrived in Bothell, Everett, Tacoma, Redmond and Spokane. Lime’s scooter fleets range from 250 in Chicago to 5,000 in Los Angeles, Youn said. The company still offers bicycles in suburban New York, Baltimore, London and Sydney.
Seattle is still trying to write final ground rules before allowing rental scooters on city streets. Mayor Jenny Durkan has shown skepticism about scooters, amid news reports of scooter-related injuries, but is allowing a pilot program to be created.
The city is considering permits for as many as 20,000 scooters and bicycles, which would eclipse past peaks when four companies — Ofo, Spin, Lime and Jump — all operated here. This year SDOT has sped construction of bicycle racks, which would also be used for scooter parking.
Scooter permits and a request for vendor proposals won’t be ready until spring, Joel Miller, SDOT bikeshare director, has said. Scooter speeds would be limited to 15 mph, the city says in an environmental notice.
If early city proposals are combined with existing city codes, people could bike but not scoot on Seattle sidewalks; ride scooters in bicycle and street lanes; and might be forbidden to scoot among pedestrians in Pike Place Market, though driving and bicycling are legal. And with a relatively thin police force of 20 officers per 10,000 residents it’s questionable whether patrols would take time to enforce scooter rules.
SDOT had no immediate comment on Lime’s bike removals. Durkan’s office issued a general statement that said: “Transportation solutions that help combat climate change will require a multimodal approach that incorporates biking, rolling, scooting and walking as well as significant investments in fast, reliable transit.”
Note: This story has been updated to clarify Lime’s bike-share presence in Bellevue.