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What’s next for the city’s bike-share pilot?

The pilot phase is officially over—and the city is evaluating how it went

A Spin bike parked along the Second Avenue bike lane.
Courtesy of the Seattle Department of Transportation

In late June, the City of Seattle announced brand-new rules governing privately operated bike shares—especially free-floating, dockless bike shares. Since then, bike-share companies Spin, Limebike, and Ofo have launched, spreading orange, green, and yellow bikes all over the streets of Seattle.

The rules were part of a six-month pilot designed to analyze the impact and popularity of the bike shares. That pilot officially ended on December 31, but bikes are still on the street, waiting while the city works with their data partners at the University of Washington to evaluate the program in three areas: ridership data, safety and collision statistics, and vendor compliance.

Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) spokesperson Mafara Hobson told Curbed Seattle that the companies still operating in Seattle—the vendors in vendor compliance—have one-year contracts, and are beholden to the rules from the pilot until changes are made.

“Once we decide what the final pilot language is, the companies will have to adapt to that right away,” explained Hobson. “But if we find that we’re having to make really big adjustments to the current language, there will be a grace period to give them time to ramp up.”

Because of a holdup with November and December data, SDOT could only provide us with data through October. But in the first four months of the pilot, the three companies operating in the city put 9,388 bikes on the road, “give or take,” said Hobson. It’s no secret that not all bikes that are put on the street actually stay there—that’s the number of permits and doesn’t account for bikes that were thrown in the Sound or left on a ferry, for example.

The average trip duration during that time was 30.3 minutes, with an average trip length of about three miles. Citywide, the average number of trips taken per day during that first four months was 2,711, with 33 percent of trips happening on the weekend.

In the first four months, users rode bikes a total of 1,052,061 miles.

We have slightly more recent data from Limebike, thanks to their end-of-year report, which contains data as of December 19. The average trip on Limebikes specifically is about 7 minutes and 30 seconds long, and spans one mile. 45 percent of trips started or ended within 50 meters of a transit station. 39 percent of all Limebike rides were during evening weekday rush hour.

Once SDOT has the full six months of data, the department, with new bike-share program manager Joel Miller, will be taking a close look at what works and what doesn’t.

One thing they’ve already identified as one of the biggest issues: bike share parking. People are leaving bikes everywhere from the middle of the sidewalk to on top of the Fremont Troll.

Speaking with us back in November, former SDOT bike-share program manager Kyle Rowe, who now works for Spin, saw two different kids of bike-share parking difficulty. “When you have people reacting to a bike that’s in their way and they throw it... into a canal in Amsterdam or a lake if they’re in Seattle, that’s probably reacting to a bike being parked incorrectly and that’s a result of people not understanding where the bike should be,” said Rowe. “Bikes in trees and bikes in trolls, though, I think that’s people that are really interested in vandalizing... and I think we’re going to see that taper off as it no longer becomes a target of people who really like to do that sort of thing.”

Hobson said that’s the difference between this and similar programs for cars, like Car2go: Once you park a shared car, it’s pretty difficult for someone to pitch it into a lake. If a Car2go is incorrectly parked, there’s a city ticketing system in place, and the company passes the ticket cost onto the consumer.

With a bike, though, there’s no way to tell whether it’s the user that parked the bike incorrectly or someone who came along later. But SDOT is mulling a couple of solutions, including a physical, marked space where people can leave bikes.

“The team is working right now, it’s almost like a pilot within a pilot, they’re looking at three neighborhoods within the city finding an established place where people can put bikes,” explained Hobson. That alone, she said, is probably not going to solve the problem, “but it’s a start. The team is working with the individual companies to come up with a better solution.”

“Is [parking] a technology issue? What’s the gap?” asked Hobson. “And we’re working closely with the companies for that.”

After compiling their full report, SDOT reports to the Seattle City Council on the pilot this spring.