Abandoned bicycles, bike shares triggering costly Coast Guard searches

Ferry officials said over the last 18 months, there have been a dozen reports of abandoned bikes on state ferries operating in Puget Sound, three involved bike shares. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - Someone abandoned a bike-share on the Seattle to Bainbridge ferry on March 31st. It may not sound like a big deal, but it is to the Washington State Ferries (WSF) and the Coast Guard.

“We have to treat that like a person in the water” says Capt. Mike Balding, deputy sector commander for the U.S. Coast Guard.

“The water of the Sound rarely gets above 55 degrees and due to that, due to thinking about public safety, we typically launch a boat and helicopter at the same time,” said Balding.

But, no one had fallen overboard.

Balding said the cost in fuel and resources for that search was $17,000. He said over the last 18 months, there have been a dozen reports of abandoned bikes on ferries operating in Puget Sound, three involved bike shares.

On Friday, a search was initiated after someone’s personal bike was found on the M/V Kittitas, which serves the San Juan Islands. The search found nothing.

With the summer approaching and the City of Seattle pushing its bike-friendly policies, the fear among ferry and Coast Guard authorities is more bikes will be abandoned, including more bike shares.

“We’ve instructed our crews, when they've noticed a bike share bike riding onto one of our boats, to go and approach that bicyclist, and say, 'hey, make sure you take this off on the other side,'” said WSF spokesman Ian Sterling.

Limebike, one of companies operating bike shares in Seattle, sent a notice on Monday to all of its Seattle customers stating ferries and areas on the west side of the sound are off-limits. The Limebike app helps customers by showing no-go zones red.

“Currently people will receive notifications saying you are in an unpermitted area and you have to bring it back,” said Gabriel Scheer, Limebike’s Director of Strategic Planning. “We haven't yet gone to the point of penalties and we hope that we don't have to do that.”

Scheer said if a customer takes one of their bikes onboard, they just need to bring it back to Seattle when they are done.

Spokespersons for both Ofo and Spin said their companies are working with their customers to encourage them not to take bikes onto the ferries, although no company absolutely prohibits it.

Some bike commuters hope WSF doesn’t install a system that ties them to their bikes.

“it's already cumbersome enough,” said Eric Terry, a regular ferry cyclists to and from Bainbridge Island. “If they are trying to slow it down and we have to check it as we are going through, it’s going to be a drag.”

Another ferry cyclist questioned why passengers don’t fall under the same scrutiny.

“There might be somebody overboard who walked on,” said Adam Michel. “But, you would never know because they don't count them.”

Criminal charges can be filed on someone who may have intentionally left a bike on board as a hoax.

The appeal of bike shares is you can leave them on the sidewalk when your done.

“Well the ferry boat is not a sidewalk,” said Sterling.

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