I really, really love bike share. They aren’t always where I need them but they are so convenient when they are. They save me from worrying about locking my bike up. From worrying about putting my bike on a bus bike rack (often full, always annoying). From having to decide what is going to be faster or will I even get there in time: the bike is maybe slow but a predictable time. I usually use LimeBike ones as they seem most available. If I can find an e-bike (electric pedal assistance), then I can deal with hills that normally would make me get off and walk. Recently I even took a bikeshare from home (North Beacon Hill) to a doctor’s appointment up on First Hill, and then after continued to work on another bike!
The bikeshare companies have been operating under a pilot program with huge success. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) presented a report on the pilot to the Seattle City Council Transportation and Sustainability Committee along with recommendations for a permanent ordinance for bikeshare companies. The committee then passed the proposal out with several non-standing members of the committee voting in favor: a good sign that it will pass the full council.
However, I have strong concerns about the proposed permanent rules. We need many other transportation options other than our dominant carbon-polluting and people-killing heavy machinery to build a sustainable city. We need to do everything we can to make bikeshare a success!
My main concerns (thanks to my friend Logan Bowers for getting there first), which I encourage you to use in writing your own letter to the city council, are:
- While the proposed legislation does not explicitly limit the number of bikes, SDOT is saying that initially they will allow 5,000 bikes per company (and four companies initially). I regularly can’t find a LimeBike (or other bike) nearby when I want them. Lime says they have about 4,000 out now. My friend Logan pointed out that we have about 50,000 walkable city blocks. If there’s not enough bikes for each of those blocks, then you won’t find a bike and so you won’t get used to using bikeshare. We have literally hundreds of thousands of cars in the city. Bikes need to be just as ubiquitous.
- I see no reason to limit the number of operators. We have space for all kinds of sizes of operators and shouldn’t be trying to create a handful of similarly sized operations which leaves no room for experiments. What if an enterprising bike shop wants to offer a highly localized bikeshare system in their neighborhood and only wants to put out a few hundred bikes? Not all bikeshare companies should have to be like LimeBike or Ofo, offering thousands of bikes all over the city.
- Charging any fee at all to the bike sharecompanies, aside from normal business taxes that all businesses pay, is absurd. We are attempting to create a movement towards sustainable transportation options. Imagine if Seattle was trying to “green” its electricity sources, those utility operators who decided to try out wind or solar faced onerous additional taxes for their new way of making electricity. Would we have a nearly carbon-free local electrical utility? Of course not. Fortunately, the federal and state government subsidized “alternate” energy. We should be subsidizing bikeshare, not charging it $50 per bike per year to operate (again, that’s in addition to regular business taxes).
- The bike parking plan needs work. Instead of building a small number of bike corrals using money extracted from the bikeshare program, we should just fund more bike corrals out of the regular budget. Put them on every block that has city-owned car parking. If there is space for cars to park, there’s space to take a single space to put in a bike corral, with space for private bikes to lock up and clear space for bikeshare bikes. Almost all concerns about bikeshare equipment getting in the way of pedestrians would be easily fixed if only bike parking was as ubiquitous as car parking.
- Why aren’t electric scooters included? We should just legalize electric scooters and free-floating scooter-share. Scooters aren’t new: they were a very early form of transportation before cars took over. Scooters are used all over the world because they use up less space, but still let people get around efficiently. We shouldn’t do a pilot. Let’s just do it. They’d probably be wildly successful, given the success of Lime’s e-bikes. Scooters are, unsurprisingly, pretty popular with people without a lot of money. Full-size cars are the single-family home of transportation: expensive and inequitable. Our city should prioritize options other than full size cars.
So there’s the short-short list of my concerns with the proposed bikeshare program rules. It’s too restrictive and I think they will make it hard for bikeshare companies to be sustainable long-term. We need to do everything we can to make them successful because we desperately need options other than private carbon-polluting cars. 2035 and the need for us to be carbon-free is not very far away.
The city council will vote on the new bikeshare permit program on Monday, July 30th at 2pm. Write your councilmembers today about the new restrictions.