Uber says the restricted bike zone, which is allowed under its city permit, is in place to maintain an appropriate density of bikes while the company has a limited number of bikes available. The zone will expand and ultimately go away as Uber adds more bikes.
Uber’s bike-share business, which launched in Seattle in November, lets customers unlock an electric bike for $1, and then pay just 10 cents per minute to ride it around the city.
But, at least for now, that’s not true everywhere.
Want to ride an Uber bike to Rainier Beach? That’ll cost an extra $25.
Want to go to Columbia City or West Seattle? $25.
How about Northgate or Lake City? $25.
Uber, whose red bikes operate under the brand name JUMP, says it charges a $25 fee for any ride that ends outside a central “bike zone” that covers downtown, Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, Fremont, Wallingford and parts of the University District and Ballard.
The company’s app says the fee is added for bikes left outside the bike zone (not bikes that simply pass through those areas), but an Uber spokesman said the company is not currently charging the fee.
Seattle’s bike-share regulations require companies to submit an “equity plan” to describe how they will reach “all people in the City of Seattle, with a focus on communities of color, low-income communities, immigrant and refugee communities,” among others.
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Uber’s current bike zone notably excludes most of Seattle’s most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods.
Uber noted when it launched its Seattle bike share that the initial service area would span from NW 65th Street in the north, to South McClellan Street in the south, and the company is working to expand to other neighborhoods. But the bike zone and $25 fee did not previously appear on the Uber app.
And, south of Interstate 90, the zone is essentially a peninsula, just a few blocks wide, which serves to cover the Mount Baker light-rail station. But end your ride a block or two south, east or west of the station, and you’re back in $25-fee land.
Nathan Hambley, an Uber spokesman, said the bike zone and the fee have been in place since the company launched service, but it hasn’t assessed the fee yet.
The company said the restricted bike zone is in place to maintain an appropriate density of bikes while there are still a limited number of bikes available.
Each bike-share company is allowed to have up to 6,666 bikes in Seattle. But while Lime has had thousands of bikes in the city for nearly a year, Uber is ramping up slowly and has about 300 bikes so far. Hambley said the company will increase to about 2,000 bikes this month, and at the same time increase the size of its bike zone.
Lyft has also applied for a permit to operate a bike-share business in Seattle, but has not announced when it might launch.
The city, in writing its bike-share regulations, listed eight goals of the program. One of those was: “Ensure affordable and equitable service — particularly for cost-burdened communities of color — while expanding access to opportunities.”
At least 10 percent of a company’s bikes must be in “equity-focus areas,” about two dozen neighborhoods in north and south Seattle that had poor bike access during the city’s bike-share pilot period. The vast majority of those equity-focus areas are not included in Uber’s initial bike zone.
But the same regulations also allow companies to, at least in the short term, serve only a limited area. Uber can continue serving a limited portion of the city until May, or until it reaches 2,500 total bikes in the city, whichever comes first.
According to its permit application, Uber initially planned to have 2,000 bikes on the streets from December through March, before increasing to 5,000 or more as the weather improves in the spring. But that timeline was pushed back by at least a month as it took the Seattle Department of Transportation longer than anticipated to approve the permits.
“JUMP plans to invest equitably across all of Seattle,” Uber wrote in its application. “In every city we serve, JUMP is proud to be available for all residents and we will work hard to ensure our bikes are distributed to best serve Seattleites across the entire city.”
This story was changed on Jan. 4 to make clear that the fee applies to bikes left outside the bike zone, not on bikes that pass through those areas.