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Seattle in final stages for new 'dockless' bike-sharing program

Limebike and Spin, two San Francisco based bike-sharing companies have hundreds of bikes stored in warehouses ready to put on the street. They are waiting for the Seattle Department of Transportation to approve their applications for operation, an approval that could come by this weekend. (KOMO photo)

SEATTLE -- Hundreds of lime green and orange bikes may soon be popping up on the streets of Seattle.

They can be found almost anywhere, parked, not chained to anything, and available to rent on the spot through a smart phone app.

It’s part of the new city sanction "dockless" bike sharing program where app-based Internet companies take on the financial burden of running private bike sharing rather than what the city tried and failed.

The city-owned bike sharing program known as Pronto failed and was shut early this year for lack of users.

Limebike and Spin, two San Francisco based bike-sharing companies have hundreds of bikes stored in warehouses ready to put on the street. They are waiting for the Seattle Department of Transportation to approve their applications for operation, an approval that could come by this weekend.

It’s similar to how car-sharing services like Car2Go operate.

Both companies offer a free smartphone app, for both Apple and Android users, needed to start the bike rental process. After creating an account with a credit card, the apps will show bikes available to rent nearby on a map.

Users find the bike, use the app to scan a QR code located on the bike, then a signal is sent by the company to the bike over the cellular phone system which unlocks the back wheel. The user is then free to ride anywhere they want.

The cost is $1 for every 30 minutes for each company. Users must supply their own helmets, but Limebike will give away 1,000 helmets to the first users of their bikes.

The bikes are similar in design, but there are some differences. Limebike’s have eight gears and drum brakes. Spin bikes have three gears, and caliber brakes. Spin uses a solar panel in the bottom of the front basket on the bike to power the GPS and locking mechanism.

But it’s the parking of the bike everyone has to get used to. The city will allow the bikes to be left for the next renter in areas that don’t impeded car or pedestrian traffic, primarily in what the city calls the ‘furniture zone’, the area between the curb and where pedestrians walk on a sidewalk. Many people call it the ‘parking strip’.

Once the rental is over, users simply lock the back wheel, the bike sends a signal to the company that the rental is over, and the user simply walks away.

It can be left anywhere in Seattle. Crews will re-position bikes if necessary throughout the day into high use areas.

Theft will be a consideration in the program’s success. Users who don’t properly lock the bike will be liable if it disappears. Both companies say there are confident theft deterrents and alarms built into the locking mechanisms will work because GPS units always let the company know where the bike is located.

More companies may be entering the race to share.

There’s no limit to the number of companies Seattle will allow, but all have to meet licensing and bonding requirements. The city will evaluate a pilot program in January.

Each company is allow to add 500 bikes per month in July and August, then it’s limited to 1,000 each month after.

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