UPDATE: July 31, 2018: The Seattle City Council unanimously passed legislation on Monday that would allow 20,000 bikes to operate in the city, according to The Seattle Times. The legislation allows up to four companies to each pay $250,000 for a permit to deploy 5,000 vehicles in the city.
While the passed legislation indicates that dockless bike-sharing will soon be a permanent program in the city, the Times reports that not all companies are on board with the fee structure and regulations. Following the vote, ofo announced it will pull out of Seattle, continuing the company's trend of shuttering operations in U.S. cities.
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will ask bike-share companies vying for a permit to submit plans that detail how they will educate users and improve bike parking.
- Proposed regulations on bike-share companies could enable them to double the number of bikes in Seattle to 20,000, according to The Seattle Times. The rules would allow four companies to operate 5,000 bikes apiece.
- The regulations, which could be approved by the city council as soon as July 23, would require companies to pay a $250,000 annual fee, or $50 per bike, up from the current fee of $15 per bike. 40% of the permit money would go to building bike-parking corrals, with the rest going to administrative costs including semiannual audits and data collection.
- Three companies — Lime, ofo and Spin — currently operate about 10,000 bikes in the city. According to data from May and June, there were 7,000 riders per day.
The new regulations would pave the way for Seattle’s bike-share network to be among the largest in the nation — by comparison, New York City’s Citi Bike operates 12,000 bikes, and Washington, DC’s docked Capital Bikeshare has 4,300 (though several dockless companies operate in the city). The regulations arrive more than a year after the city shut down its Pronto bike-share network. That program launched in 2014 with just 500 bikes and potential for growth, but the bikes were ridden less than once a day on average and the system required a buyout from the city after just a year.
The city's interest has increased amid better acceptance of bike-share networks nationwide and the availability of dockless bikes. Bikes have gained in popularity, allowing the city to consider such a large increase in the size of the network.
A big question is whether companies will balk at the big hike in permit fees. Lina Feng, general manager of ofo Seattle, told the Times, "these excessive fees, the highest in the country, would be a step backward in reducing carbon emissions by severely limiting access to greener, more affordable transportation." Lime, meanwhile, said the fees would not deter the company and could spur an increase in electric-assist bikes, which cost more to ride and generate more revenue.
The proposal comes as several cities are in conflict with dockless bike companies, since their vehicles can end up cluttering sidewalks and streets. Seattle bike-share program manager Joel Miller said companies would have to prove how they would better distribute bikes and ensure they are properly parked as part of their permit application (the city also has a helmet requirement, which some have said contributed to the collapse of Pronto). Under the rules, Miller said companies would have to have a limited number of improperly parked bikes, or face penalties like a reduction in fleet size. Using permit fees to pay for parking corrals could be a beneficial step, by giving riders a convenient place to park legally.