Bike sharing overhaul criticized for lack of transparency, bike helmet requirement

Changes in Seattle’s dockless bike share program are just one legislative vote away from taking effect. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - Changes in Seattle’s dockless bike share program are just one legislative vote away from taking effect.

The Seattle City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee approved the changes Tuesday, but amendments will be attached when the full council takes up the changes on August 30.

Keynotes to the changes include a massive increase in the annual permit fee paid by the bike sharing companies to $250,000 a year.

The general manager of Ofo Seattle, one of three bike sharing companies operating in the city, told council member the increase could be reflected in the rental prices of the bikes. A peddle bike currently rents for $1 an hour.

“It is a 300 percent fee increase that can pose a threat to the health of this industry,” said Lina Feng.

The changes also include an increase from three to four bike share operators in the city, and a doubling of bike shares on the street from 10,000 to 20,000 tentatively starting August 31. The changes could bring $1 million to the city.

According to SDOT, 60 percent of the money will be used to administer the program including $370,000 going to the equivalent of 1.5 fulltime employees to run it.

Forty percent or $400,000 will go to construction of upwards to 200 painted bike corrals, where renters can park their bikes. Five such painted corrals currently exist in Ballard. Many complaints to the city involve how renters are not properly parking their bikes between the sidewalk and the curb.

Marci Carpenter told council members, there needs to be more consideration for the disabled who are tripping over the bikes.

“I imagine taking all the bicycles that are blocking the bus stops and the curb ramps and throwing them all in the street because maybe if they blocked cars something new would be done,” said Carpenter, who is blind.

But it was the lack of a bike helmet requirement that many attending the hearing had concerns over.

“The bike share companies are going to make money and it’s going to be leaving you holding the bag of lawsuits,” said Richard Adler, the attorney who co-wrote the Zachery Lystedt Law that changed the concussion protocol in youth sports in all 50 states.

In King County, it’s against the law to ride a bike without a helmet, but bike share companies have not been required to provide renters with one.

"I’m giving them notice that if they approve this without helmets, they are responsible for this decision, they will come to court, they will have to answer in court,” said Adler, referring to council members.

Doug McDonald, the former Washington State Secretary of Transportation told the council about SDOT’s alleged lack of transparency with the data it has collected to evaluate the program.

“There has been no evaluation, but we are ready to jump from 10 to 20,” McDonald told council members.

McDonald said he’s been following the bike share debate closely and said the city has not made the raw data available to the public so the public can see if the program is working or not.

“It was supposed to be presented, so the public can understand it, but there has been virtually nothing,” said McDonald.

In May. KOMO News presented a story that the data sent to University of Washington researchers for collection had flaws and holes, according to a source who was involved in the data’s collection.

Council members did not public address any requirement of helmets many where asking for.

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