The city would also significantly increase the fees that bike-share companies pay to use streets and sidewalks, and conduct audits to ensure bikes are parked correctly.
Seattle’s bike-share program could soon double in size, with up to 20,000 bikes in the city, under proposed regulations announced Thursday.
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) proposal would allow four private bike-share companies to operate in the city, with each offering up to 5,000 bikes.
Each company would pay a $250,000 annual fee — which amounts to $50 per allowed bike — for a permit to operate on city streets and sidewalks.
Currently the city charges $15 per bike plus about an $1,800 administrative fee.
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The city would use 60 percent of the permit money on administrative costs to oversee the system — including continuing evaluation, data collection and semiannual audits of the companies to ensure that bikes are parked correctly.
The city would use 40 percent of the permit money to build 150 to 200 bike-parking corrals like the five painted ones in Ballard.
The corrals would be spread throughout the city, after SDOT conducts neighborhood outreach, and would mostly be in street space at intersections — in the 20 to 30 feet closest to a stop sign or crosswalk where parking is forbidden.
The spaces would be marked with paint and bike symbols or signage, and would have a couple of bike racks for regular bikes as well as open space meant for bike-share bikes, SDOT officials said.
Parking in the corrals would be encouraged, not required.
Locations would be chosen based on demand, proximity to transit stops and with an eye toward equitable placement throughout the city.
Three companies — LimeBike, ofo and Spin — with about 10,000 total bikes now operate throughout the city under a pilot program that’s been going on for a year. All three have at least expressed interest in continuing to operate in Seattle once a permanent program is in place, according to SDOT.
The bikes were used an average of 7,000 times a day in May and June.
SDOT has been working for months to write the proposed regulations, and other cities have been eyeing Seattle’s progress in regulating an industry that didn’t exist in the United States just one year ago.
Even before the regulations’ official release, ofo was pushing back on the fee increase.
“These excessive fees, the highest in the country, would be a step backward in reducing carbon emissions by severely limiting access to greener, more affordable transportation,” said Lina Feng, general manager of ofo Seattle.
Gabriel Scheer, LimeBike’s director of strategic development, said the fee would be the highest of any city it operates in, but the company intends to continue in Seattle. He said the higher fees could lead the company to increase the share of electric-assist bikes in its fleet that cost more to ride and tend to be more profitable.
Mayor Jenny Durkan was briefed on the proposed regulations and signed off, SDOT said. The agency will present the proposal to the City Council’s transportation committee on Tuesday and the full City Council could approve the regulations as soon as July 23.
In total, five to 10 companies have expressed interest in operating in Seattle, Joel Miller, the city’s bike-share program manager, said.
The city will ask prospective companies to submit proposals on how they plan to comply with the city’s goals on rider behavior — including helmet use and proper parking. The city will also require that bikes be “rebalanced” so that they’re distributed equitably around the city, Miller said.
The city will then rate those plans as it chooses which four applications to accept.
By far the biggest complaint about the bike shares over the past year has been improperly parked bikes, Miller said.
“We need to have a much more proactive compliance and enforcement program,” he said.
If a bike is improperly parked now, for instance blocking a sidewalk or a curb ramp, the recourse is to call the company and complain. The company is then supposed to fix it within two hours. But if you’re in a wheelchair and a bike is blocking a ramp, that doesn’t do you any good.
Miller said companies would have to have less than a certain percentage of bikes improperly parked — he mentioned 4 percent or less, but it’s not set in stone — and they would be checked with compliance audits. If a company fails to meet those goals, it would be punished, potentially with reductions in fleet size.
The punishments would be “steep enough so that it’s more painful for the company to not comply than to comply,” Miller said. “They’re going to have to put in some new mechanisms.”
How the companies meet those requirements will be up to them.
Scheer, with LimeBike, said the company was testing things like putting gyroscopes in bikes so it can be determined remotely if a bike has been knocked over. In other cities where LimeBike offers motorized scooters, the company has experimented with requiring riders to take a picture of their parking job to complete their ride.
“We acknowledge that we continually need to work on the parking side of things; I don’t think that will ever stop,” Scheer said. “We’ve had 120 years to learn how to park cars and yet we still have to have enforcement officers.”