Our neighbour to the south has introduced a new form of bike share — as technology now enables dockless systems.
Results look very promising, compared to Seattle’s old (and much too small) Pronto bike-share system. With thanks to SeattlePI.com and Daniel DeMay.
Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) said as much earlier this week when it appeared before a City Council committee to report on the progress of the pilot program that launched in July and is set to run until the end of the year.
With two years and change to grow its user base, Pronto averaged 0.7 trips per bike per day. But in the short time since LimeBike, Spin and Ofo came on the scene in Seattle, they’ve averaged 2.25 rides per bike per day, according to data from SDOT.
And there are a lot more bikes.
Between the three companies, something north of 4,000 bikes are spread across the city, and the permits are up to allowing 2,000 bikes per company. Only LimeBike has pushed out the full 2,000 bikes.
Spin (“Ride for $1, park anywhere”), LimeBike and Chinese company Ofo are the suppliers in Seattle. Other competitors in this arena include Social Bicycles, Zagster and DropBike. Not to mention increasing N.A. market entry by big and well-funded Chinese firms Mobike (now in Washington, DC) and Ofo.
The key innovation is a solar-powered GPS-enabled smart-lock with communications to a central site, enabling app-driven bike-finding, access and charging via QR code scanning. The tech builds on the increasing availability of Internet of Things (IoT) products from companies like Qualcomm. The rest of the bike looks pretty much like a Mobi.
The business model apparently doesn’t include charging cities, or asking for start-up capital — in fact, the theory is that suppliers pay cities. The dilemma for cities (aside from having existing Mobi-like dock-oriented systems), is that bikes can be left anywhere. In some Chinese cities, this has created an unbelievable nuisance, as the suppliers keep on pouring bikes in, and people leave them anywhere when they are done with their ride. Seattle’s choice is to put the onus on the operator to reposition bikes to improve location-related availability and reduce unwanted clutter, with the threat of loss of license and deal-souring bad publicity.
From Jason Margolis at PRI
For Seattle City Council Member Mike O’Brien, who chairs the city’s Committee of Sustainability and Transportation, adopting the Chinese bike-share model makes a lot of sense: “Congestion in Seattle, not unlike other major cities, is bad and getting worse.”
O’Brien adds that Seattle strives to be a leader battling climate change, which means getting more fossil-fuel burning vehicles off the roads.
As for bicycles junking up Seattle’s sidewalks, O’Brien isn’t worried. If problems arise, it’s up to the bike companies to correct them.
“These companies want stories that say, ‘I went and visited Seattle, I went and used company X. It was a great system, and it worked really well,’” said O’Brien. “If there’s a headline article that says, ‘Seattle shuts down company X because they don’t play by the rules,’ that can be pretty damaging to their brand.”
The companies operating in Seattle have trucks patrolling the city, picking up and repositioning the bikes so they’re more equally distributed. Still, it’s hard to find one on top of Seattle’s hills, because people ride them down. The challenge, for now at least in Seattle, isn’t cluttered sidewalks, it’s not enough bikes.