The two ride-hailing giants are among three companies that each applied for a permit to operate dockless bike shares on Seattle's streets — which is to say, free-standing bikes that riders can pick up with just a few taps on their phone screens.

Share story

Uber and Lyft are already in Seattle. But they might be arriving anew, this time with smaller motors and fewer wheels.

The two ride-hailing giants are among three companies that each applied for a permit to operate dockless bike shares on Seattle’s streets — which is to say, free-standing bikes that riders can pick up with just a few taps on their phone screens.

JUMP (owned by Uber), Lyft and LimeBike (who has been operating here for the last year) are all seeking to operate bike shares in the city over the next year, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) said Friday.

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 »

As many as 10 bike-share companies had expressed interest in operating in Seattle, as the city was developing the regulations, Joel Miller, SDOT’s bike-share manager said last month. Though the city’s recently passed bike-share regulations allow up to four companies to operate up to 5,000 bikes each, only three applied for permits. The application period recently closed.

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

But the regulations require $250,000 in annual fees per company — at $50 per bike, some of the highest in the nation — adding costs to a brand-new business with already dubious profit margins. The bikes, after all, cost as little as $1 to rent and require teams of employees to maintain and redistribute them around the city.

Spin and ofo, two of the bike-share companies that have been in Seattle for the past year, both recently announced they were leaving the city — they blamed, in part, the annual fee. Those accusations  should be taken with a massive grain of salt: Ofo blamed the fees, but left Seattle at the same time that it pulled out of nearly every other American city where it operated.

And Spin, too, blamed the bike-share regulations even as it shifted its focus to scooter sharing. Cruise around the company’s website and you’ll find no evidence that Spin even remains in the bike-sharing business. Scooter sharing remains banned in Seattle.

Miller said the total number of shareable bikes will remain capped at 20,000 — twice the current number on Seattle’s streets — as it would have been if four companies had applied to set up shop here. But because there is one less company, each one may be permitted additional bikes beyond the original proposed cap of 5,000 apiece to reach that total.

Already, JUMP has posted job openings for a Seattle general manager and operations crew. The company said it hoped to be open for business here this fall.

“Bikes are an important part of Uber’s multimodal future as we seek to provide consumers with an alternative to personal car ownership,” said Nathan Hambley, an Uber spokesman.

JUMP offers exclusively electric-assist bikes, while Lime offers both electric-assist and traditional bikes. Lyft did not respond to requests for comment about what kind of bikes it would operate in Seattle.