Still, bike-share bikes were used nearly 2,600 times on an average day in Seattle from mid-July through December last year. Each bike was ridden an average of 0.84 times per day.

Share story

Each green, yellow and orange shareable bike dotting Seattle’s sidewalks was ridden a little less than once per day, on average, last year, according to new data analyzed by the University of Washington.

While the bikes are being used, the data shows a significant decline in ridership as the weather got worse and biking became less pleasant, even as more and more bikes began appearing on the streets.

Still, bike-share bikes were used nearly 2,600 times on an average day in Seattle. All told, people took nearly 470,000 rides on the dockless bikes from mid-July through December last year. Each bike was ridden an average of 0.84 times per day.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., NHL Seattle, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company, Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Learn more about Traffic Lab » | Follow us on Twitter »

“At no cost to the city we got this great mobility gain and a tool that people use,” said Joel Miller, Seattle Department of Transportation’s bike-share program manager. “The numbers could go up because we just had a small fleet when the weather was nice and then we had a large fleet when the weather was bad.”

When the bikes first hit the streets in Seattle last summer, each private bike-share company — LimeBike, ofo and Spin — was limited to 500 bikes apiece. Those limits gradually increased last year, to 1,000 bikes each, then 2,000, before eventually going away.

Although the number has varied some, around 9,000 to 10,000 bikes have been on Seattle streets since mid-November, Miller said.

The new data covers the second half of 2017, from when stationless bike shares made their Seattle debut in mid-July, through the end of the year, when the city’s “pilot” program ended.

The Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington, on behalf of SDOT, has been analyzing the pilot-period data submitted by the three stationless bike-share companies operating in Seattle.

SDOT, which is preparing to brief the Seattle City Council on the bike-sharing program, had declined to release ridership data since last year. The new data, which was completed in February, was obtained through a request under Washington’s Public Records Act.

The latest per-bike ridership numbers show a significant decrease since last fall, when SDOT briefed the City Council on the bike-share program, and touted that each bike was ridden about 2.2 times per day. SDOT now says those numbers are not directly comparable, because they were still refining how to analyze the data.

Miller said that SDOT plans to present to the City Council in June, with hopes that the council approves a permanent bike-share program by mid-July.

The number-one issue they hope to address is bike parking.

Miller said SDOT studies have shown that 70 to 80 percent of the bikes are parked correctly — in the “furniture zone” of the sidewalk (where parking meters tend to be), not blocking bus stops or the traveled way.

Miller said another 15 to 25 percent of bikes are parked incorrectly but don’t pose a huge issue, while about 5 percent are posing a problem — blocking curb ramps or impeding access for people with disabilities.

“We need to fix that,” Miller said. “How do we compel the companies to compel the users to be more responsible?”

They don’t have a solid answer to that question yet, but Miller said they’re looking to move away from a complaint-based approach to one where the companies are more active in moving mis-parked bikes. Currently, people can call the bike companies to have bikes moved if they’re incorrectly parked.

“If you’re in a wheelchair and there’s a bike in the curb ramp, complaining and having the bike moved within two hours doesn’t really help the situation,” he said.

Seattle was the first major city to serve as a testing ground for this new breed of stationless bikes.

Nationally, they’re now booming.

People took about 35 million trips on bike-share bikes in 2017, according to a new study from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), a 25 percent increase from 2016.

And stationless bikes — which didn’t exist in the U.S. in 2016 — now account for nearly half of all bike-share bikes nationally, according to NACTO.

“Bike share is increasingly an integral part of the day-to-day transportation mix,” said Linda Bailey, executive director of NACTO. “We see no end in sight.”

Still, the vast majority of use is still on traditional, station-based bike shares. Stationless bikes are 44 percent of all bike-share bikes nationally, but only account for 4 percent of trips, according to NACTO.

New York City’s traditional station-based bike-share system accounted for about half of all bike-share use nationally. And each bike in New York’s system was used 2.9 times per day in December, about 13 times the rate of use in Seattle that month.