With the Pronto failure under its belt, City Hall will try to regulate a new breed of bikeshare. City Hall photo by Rootology, bike photo courtesy of Spin

Seattle Could Have Cheap, Functional Bikeshare By Mid-June

Council is prepping for an expected influx of privately-owned rent-a-bikes you can park anywhere.

As soon as a month from now, Seattleites may be able to rent bicycles located around the city via smartphone. Unlike the defunct Pronto bikseshare, these new services—there are potentially two—will allow users to park the bikes pretty much anywhere. The cost? A buck per ride.

Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog broke this story. “It’s basically Car2Go, but a bicycle,” he wrote. To use, riders need only to download the app, register, and then either scan a QR code or enter a code manually; both of which are located on the bike, which also has built-in GPS to allow companies and the city to gather data on rider trends, according to Fucoloro. One company, San Fransisco’s Spin, is already up-and-running in its hometown, as well as Austin. Fucoloro reports that company CEO Derrick Ko says they plan to launch in Seattle “as soon as possible.” Last week, Fucoloro rode a rent-a-bike in downtown Seattle from another company called BlueGoGo. The China-based operator is preparing its first go in North America once the weather clears up. Both companies have “thousands” of bikes sitting in storage, ready for rollout on the streets of Jet City.

In response, City Councilmembers Rob Johnson and Mike O’Brien are working on legislation—or a director’s rule, or an agreement with vendors, or something—to curb the pain of any potential side effects that might come with thousands of new bicycles descending upon our streets.

“The idea that the city might be inundated by bikes and we’ll be overwhelmed,” says O’Brien, “it’s kind of like, ‘Wow, that’s a cool problem to have.’”

O’Brien and Johnson are avid urbanists and cyclists. Their plan is to have a pilot period as short as this summer or as long as the rest of the year in which pretty much any vendor can come compete in an open market. How the pilot goes will determine what the final, post-pilot legislation looks like. Johnson and O’Brien aim to have a regulatory framework, administered via the Seattle Department of Transportation, ready for the pilot period within a month. They have four criteria they’ll demand any vendor conform to:

1. Geographic equity. Ultimately, bikeshare needs to be accessible to everyone around the city. That might not happen during the pilot phase, though.

2. Protection of right-of-ways. Parked bikes can’t clog up sidewalks or existing bike parking (the bikes are self-locking, so the latter may not be a problem in the first place.) Essentially, there can’t be giant mounds of unused bicycles laying around.

3. Safety. Bikes must be well-maintained and users need to know that King County law technically requires cyclists to wear a helmet. Johnson says he will not try to require vendors to provide a helmet.

4. Collect data. “We want to know which bikes are going where,” says Johnson. That data will be used by private vendors and city regulators to decide where to invest new bicycle infrastructure and to allow for other tweaks to the system, ad infinitum.

Johnson says he “shared this framework” with SDOT director Scott Kubly, who was “very interested.”

O’Brien says he expects to ultimately create a special permit for bikeshare vendors, including fees to pay for bike infrastructure and whatever other mitigation the bikeshares might elicit. “We get to write the rules on this one,” he says, and he’ll write them (at least during the pilot) such that the city can revoke a vendor’s license without cause, whenever city leaders feel like it. The constant implicit threat of losing the right to do business in Seattle should prove a powerful incentive for vendors to be on their best behavior. “Nothing is written down yet,” says O’Brien. According to Fucoloro, both Spin and BlueGoGo say they want to play nice with city regulators after facing backlash in San Francisco and Austin, respectively.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold wasn’t available for comment Friday, but during the Pronto debacle last year she wrote a blogpost advocating pretty much exactly this type of approach: leveraging the private sector to serve a public good, through smart regulatory incentives.

“I believe bike sharing can be a productive part of Seattle’s transportation network,” wrote Herbold. “However, I believe we would be best served by a privately owned and operated system, in the same way as Car2Go, the successful car-sharing program, is privately owned and operated in Seattle.”

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

More in News & Comment

Seattle and King County Officials Want a Safe Injection Van

The mobile project—an alternative to permanent sites—still doesn’t have a defined timeline.

Western Washington Could See More Wildfires This Year

Lots of grass and warmer weather could make for worsening fire seasons.

An autopsy found that Tommy Le was shot twice in the back during an fatal encounter with a King County sheriff’s deputy. Photo courtesy Career Link
New Report Calls for Increased Transparency From King County Sheriff’s Office

The fatal shooting of Tommy Le served as a case study for researchers.

Charles Pillon sits inside one of the several buses on Iron Mountain. Photo by Caean Couto
The Last Days of Iron Mountain?

After battling King County government for decades, Charles Pillon may have finally lost the fight over his illegal 10-acre junkyard.

The public files into the City Council Chambers to voice their opinions prior to the vote to repeal the head tax. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Head Tax Repealed By Seattle City Council

After pressure from big businesses, city leaders cave on their plan to fund homeless services.

A scene from the 2017 Women’s March Seattle. Photo by Richard Ha/Flickr
County Sexual Harassment Policies Could Be Overhauled

One King County councilmember says male-dominated departments have “workplace culture issues.”

The Firs Homeowners Association celebrate outside of the Maleng Regional Justice Center after a ruling that buys them more time in their homes on June 7, 2018. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
SeaTac Mobile Home Owners Granted Stay From Eviction

The ruling allows about 200 residents more time in their homes, as they attempt to acquire the property.

Most Read