The application window to operate a bike-share program in Seattle under new rules (and fees) has closed, and three companies have thrown their itty-bitty cycling caps into the ring. Lime is the only one with bikes currently on the street. Uber has also applied, with its all-electric fleet of Jump bikes, which Uber acquired back in April. And although we’re still waiting on some details for Lyft, the company acquired Motivate, the company that operated Seattle’s now-defunct Pronto bike-share program, earlier this summer.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that all three will operate in Seattle. First, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has to review applications and decide which ones are allowed to set up shop. The permitting structure allows for a maximum of four companies to operate within the city, so there’s room for all three. But it’s a question of whether the applicants meet—or how strongly the city applies—the permit standards, which require plans for improving parking compliance and increasing ridership equity.
For potential permittees, said SDOT bike-share program manager Joel Miller back in July, “we’re asking for specific plans from the companies for things like, how do you plan to get your users to park better? How do you ensure that the right-of-way, and especially ADA access, remains clear? We’ll be asking for plans like, how are you educating your users?... How are you ensuring your users are riding safely?”
The submitted plans, said Miller at the time, will count for a lot.
After approval, companies will have to pay fees totaling $50 per year for each new bike on the street, prorated by month—or $250,000 once a company reaches the maximum of 5,000 bikes on the street. The City Council granted SDOT authority to lower fees if the cost of administration ends up being less.
The two non-Lime bike-share operators that participated during the city’s initial pilot program, Spin and Ofo, both cited high fees as a reason for leaving, although Ofo’s departure comes during a withdrawal from multiple United States markets and Spin’s during a pivot to scooters.
While Uber initially balked at the permitting prices, it ultimately wasn’t a deterrent.
“We shared some concerns about the fee level with the city,” said Nathan Hambly, Uber’s Seattle spokesperson, speaking with us on Thursday, adding that it’s important that bike operators can create a “sustainable business.”
Despite that,” continued Hambly, “we’re still very enthusiastic to roll the bikes out here should we be awarded a permit.”
Jump’s bikes are currently pedal-assisted to up to 20 miles per hour, although Hambly said it’s an easy change to cap the assist at 15 to meet permit regulations. The battery, located in the step-through frame, has a 30 to 40 mile range. A user interface mounted on the back fender allows for users to unlock bikes without a smartphone, either with a user ID or RFID chip (an ORCA card, for example, will work).
While a Lyft spokesperson confirmed the permit application, we’re still waiting on more details. Motivate, which will be rebranded as Lyft Bikes, has historically run docked bike-share programs—not just Seattle’s Pronto, but New York’s Citibike, Portland’s Biketown, San Francisco’s Gobike, and others—although dockless is the wave of the future, so it’s too early to tell what those bikes are going to be like.
Miller told us earlier this month that SDOT “will have new permits in place by the beginning of September,” but has not yet returned an inquiry about the submitted permit applications.