Seattle to test privately-run, stationless bike share program

A new pilot program for privately-owned bike share companies was launched on Friday, and could lead to hundreds of rentable bikes on Seattle streets by July 7. (Photo: KOMO News screen shot from demo video)

SEATTLE - Seattle is a trying a bike share comeback.

A new pilot program for privately-owned bike share companies was launched on Friday, and could lead to hundreds of rentable bikes on Seattle streets by July 7.

Three years ago, the city adopted the bike sharing company Pronto to open up shop. The city bought the company after it said it could not have a successful operation in Seattle. The city couldn’t make it work either and sold off the assets.

Seattle Bike Share 3.0 is different and relies on a business model similar to car sharing companies like Car2Go. It’s called “stationless bike sharing”

“You take it from point A to point B and then you park it wherever you arrive and you don’t have to be docking into a station,” said Scott Kubly, Seattle Department of Transportation Director.

Pronto required users to park their bikes at a docking station.

Stationless bike sharing lets users leave their bikes virtually anywhere and there’s no need for a docking station.

“Basically you just download the app, scan it and start riding,” said Derrick Ko, CEO and co-founder of Spin, a San Francisco bike sharing company which plans to deploy bikes as soon as possible in Seattle.

Users download an app and set up an account with a credit card. They then scan the barcode on the bike and if the account is validated, the locking mechanism on the bikes rear wheel unlocks and the user is free to ride wherever they want.

Ko said the bikes are equipped with GPS technology, so they know where the each of the bikes are at all times.

Bike sharing has been popular in China and only been tested in markets like Austin and San Francisco.

Seattle regulations will allow companies like Spin to add 500 bikes a month starting July 7, leaving the possibility to have thousands of bikes available for sharing by the end of summer.

Parking the bikes properly will be the first big obstacle. The city will allow the bikes to be parked in what’s known as the “furniture zone”, the area of a sidewalk between the curb and the main pass-thru where pedestrians walk.

“It will be up to the bike sharing companies to educate their users on where to properly park the bike,” said Kubly.

He admits it’s going to be a learning experience for everyone involved, especially properly parking the bikes in the areas the city wants.

“We are going to be the first big city in North America implementing bike share in this way and we are doing a pilot so we can learn,” said Kubly.

He admits the rules will be influx and can be changed depending on feedback from users, the operators and city residents and businesses.

Operators will pay the city a $15 per bike license fee and other fees that basically amount to $2,000.

Spin plans to charge users $1 for 30 minutes. Users will also be required to supply their own helmet and check a box in the app, acknowledging they are renting the bike with a helmet in their possession.

At the end of the pilot, SDOT will analyze the data and performance metrics, including neighborhood distribution equity, and will decide if it can be a permanent transit option.

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