Two new bike shares will soon be rolling into town, participating in a pilot program with the city. Trying to succeed where Pronto failed, Spin and LimeBike have adopted a dockless system allowing riders to park just about anywhere. Bikes with the dockless system are self-locking: not even a bike rack or pole is necessary to secure bikes.
Both companies pointed to the limitations of bike share programs that rely on docking stations to secure bikes when asked why they think their bike share will succeed where Pronto failed.
“Spin is a lot more accessible and affordable than previous bike share programs,” said Randy Tovar, a market launcher with Spin.
Dockless models can serve a larger portion of the city and scale up much faster than systems that use docking stations, he added.
“Pronto never got as broad as it should have,” said Gabriel Scheer, a bike commuter and director of strategic partnerships for LimeBike. He said many neighborhoods lacking Pronto docking stations made it inconvenient for riders to use the system.
With the dockless system, riders will no longer have to search for a nearby station at the end of rides to lock bikes, eliminating the geographical limitations Pronto faced.
“I’d love to see someone ride to Portland,” Scheer said. Spin was more cautious when asked how far riders could take the bikes, saying the bike share program was permitted by only the City of Seattle. But nothing will stop riders from leaving the city, except maybe cost.
Both companies charge $1 for a thirty-minute ride.
Setting itself apart, LimeBike, designed for specifically for Seattle, will give riders eight speeds to tackle the city’s hilly terrain, rather than Spin’s three.
“We had to go bigger,” Scheer said, “The bike was built for Seattle’s hills.”
Scheer sees bike shares being used in areas that are less served by transit. It’s not a silver bullet, not for everyone, he said, but it could move some people that last mile.
The Seattle Department of Transportation is giving companies until the end of the year to experiment with a new bike share models for the city. Companies can start with 500 bikes and add another 500 in the second month, and by the fourth month can expand beyond 2,000.
“This time period gives us the ability to look at the data, and figure out the best system for the city,” said Mafara Hobson, a spokesperson for SDOT.
As part of the pilot program, bike share companies are required to share real-time data on how bicycles move around the city. Which could help SDOT identify deficiencies in the bicycle infrastructure.
Bikes for both companies are very similar, with a step-through frame with a front basket much like Pronto’s design, but lighter. The bikes use a solar panel, that also doubles as the bottom of the front basket, to power the lock and GPS system. And attached to the front is a pedal generated light. In the rear LimeBike has a flashing red light while Spin uses a red reflector. Both bikes use airless tireless to reduce the need for maintenance. Riders use a smartphone app to locate nearby bikes and scan the bike’s QR code to unlock. Helmets are required but not provided.
The real question waiting to be answered is where riders will park at the end of rides. SDOT requires bikes to be parked on hard surfaces within the landscape/furniture zone – the area between the roadway curb face and the front edge of the walkway.
Hobson said SDOT is ultimately holding the bike share companies accountable for making sure bikes are parked correctly. Rules dictated bikes parked incorrectly need to be removed with two hours of receiving notice during business hours, and within 10 hours during other times.
Both companies are ready to launch, each with a stash of bikes ready to the hit the streets once SDOT gives the final OK.