Starting this quarter, city audits of Lime and Jump bikes will report on whether the electric batteries are charged enough for riders to rent, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) says.

“We’ll figure out how to do it in a transparent, clear way,” SDOT spokesman Ethan Bergerson said.

That policy follows a Seattle Times report Sept. 12 that found in some areas, the majority of Lime bicycles tested by a Traffic Lab reporter couldn’t be unlocked due to low battery power or “under maintenance” warnings.

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, Kemper Development Co., NHL Seattle, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company and Seattle Children’s hospital. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Lime blamed depleted batteries on heavy Labor Day ridership and employee days off, and said Friday that crews have caught up since then, by replacing low batteries with freshly charged ones.

SDOT permits require at least 70% of the companies’ bikes “must be in good working order and available for rental.” SDOT’s spring audit of the bike-rental programs said 94% of Lime and 96% of Jump bikes complied.

That’s far higher than the roughly two-thirds availability Traffic Lab has logged for both companies from 2018 until this August.

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It turns out, the auditors visually checked the mechanical soundness of the bikes — overstating the actual availability. Only a “small sample” were also checked for battery power this spring, said Bergerson.

The report says auditors made visual checks of 540 Lime and 292 Jump bikes, but only in late spring “began renting a selection of bikes.” SDOT won’t determine until its third-quarter report whether 70% are truly usable.

Lime spokesman Alex Youn said Friday the company feels confident in its operations and service to meet the city’s requirement. “We are awaiting the city audit and will cross-check that with our own data,” he added.

Bergerson said battery power and network connectivity are already being logged in audits this month.

“I wouldn’t call it changing the methodology,” he said. “We’re just going to go out and do a bigger sample size.”

Audits this spring focused on the higher-profile question of whether bikes blocked sidewalks. About 17% obstructed sidewalk corners, bus zones or building fronts, failing to meet the SDOT target of 3%.

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If companies fail, the city can reduce the quota of permitted bicycles, or write tougher rules for 2020.

SDOT this spring reduced maximum fleet sizes for both Lime and Jump because of the blocking issue, but each company was already below the quota so those sanctions brought no real impact. Between 6,000 and 7,000 bicycles are on city sidewalks and roadsides this year.

Lime insists it will keep offering bicycles here, but the company just announced it is winding down its LimePod car rentals and hopes to provide electric foot scooters when Seattle launches a pilot scooter program, likely in the spring.