I ๐Ÿ’š bike share! Please don’t mess it up!

Seattle’s city council committee devoted to transportation issues received a presentation last week on our free floating bike share program and then passed an ordinance out of committee. The current bike “free floating” (park anywhere) bike share program is still technically under pilot rules. Lime Bike is apparently currently “winning” โ€“ I’m not at all surprised as I use a Lime bike at least a couple times a week and their pedal-assist e-bikes are just enough and I love them.

I do, however, have strong concerns about the proposed permanent rules. I’m writing this up really quickly in a blog but plan to extract a summary to send to my city council members and share it here so you, if you live or work in (or even just visit) Seattle have ideas for what you want to write. Other transportation options than carbon polluting and people killing heavy machinery are critical to a sustainable city (and even electric cars won’t be enough). We need to do everything we can to make bike share a success!

My friend Logan wrote up his concerns with the program which I then summarized on twitter the other day. My main concerns are:

  • While the proposed legislation does not explicitly limit the number of bikes, SDOT is saying that initially they will allow 5,000 bikes per company (and four companies initially). I regularly can’t find a Lime Bike (or other bike) nearby when I want them. Lime says they have about 4,000 out now. Logan points out that we have about 50,000 walkable city blocks. If there’s not enough bikes for each of those blocks, then you won’t find a bike and so you won’t get used to using bike share. We have literally hundreds of thousands of cars in the city. Bikes need to be just as ubiquitous.
  • I see no reason to limit the number of operators. We have space for all kinds of sizes of operators and shouldn’t be trying to create a handful of similarly sized operations which leaves no room for experiments. What if an enterprising bike shop wants to offer a highly localized bike share system in their neighborhood and only wants to put out a few hundred bikes? All the bike share companies don’t have to be like Lime or Ofo and offer thousands of bikes all over the city.
  • Charging any fee at all to the bike share companies, aside from normal business taxes that all businesses pay, is absurd. We are attempting to create a movement towards sustainable transportation options. Imagine if when Seattle was trying to “green” its electricity sources, those utility operators who decided to try out wind or solar faced onerous additional taxes for their new way of making electricity. Would we have a nearly carbon-free local electrical utility? Of course not. Fortunately, the federal and state government subsidized “alternate” energy. We should be subsidizing bike share, not charging it $50 per bike per year to operate (again, that’s in ADDITION to regular business taxes) .
  • The bike parking plan needs work. Instead of building a small number of bike corrals using money extracted from the bike share program, we should just fund out of the regular budget bike corrals on every block that has city-owned car parking. If there is space for cars to park, there’s space to take a single space to put in a bike corral, with space for private bikes to lock up and clear space for bike share bikes. Almost all concerns about bikes getting in the way should be easily fixed if only bike parking was as ubiquitous as car parking.
  • Why aren’t electric scooters included? We should just legalize electric scooters and free floating scooter share. Scooters aren’t new: they were a very early form of transportation before cars took over. Scooters are used all over the world because they use up less space, but still let people get around efficiently. We shouldn’t do a pilot. Let’s just do it. They’d probably be wildly successful, given the success of Lime’s ebikes. Scooters are, unsurprisingly, pretty popular with people without a lot of money. Full size cars are the single family home of transportation: expensive and inequitable. Our city should prioritize options other than full size cars.

So there’s the short-short list of my concerns with the proposed bike share program rules. It’s too restrictive and I think will make it hard for share companies to be sustainable long-term. We need to do everything we can to make them successful because we desperately need options other than private carbon-polluting cars. 2035 and the need for us to be carbon-free is not very far away.