LimeBike at UW Station

Last year Mercer Island settled its lawsuit with Sound Transit for some money to improve access issues for the future Mercer Island Station. I’m pleased to say that one of those programs will be easy to like: a 25-Ebike pilot program with Limebike, running from mid-July to mid-October.

The Mercer Island Reporter says that Limebike would have shared data, responded to safety and parking issues within time limits, and rebalanced bikes weekly for free. For a monthly subsidy of up to $1,625, Limebike will rebalance bikes every weekday. Enter the settlement money.

Riders will pay the usual E-Bike rate of $1 plus 15 cents per minute.

Most of Mercer Island’s road network is poorly optimized for buses. Alternative measures like this one come at nominal cost and are likely to somewhat improve transit accessibility on the island. Unfortunately, it’s not clear there are enough “reverse commuters” heading deeper into the community in the morning to insure adequate turnover of bikes and reliable supply in the afternoon. The City should do what it can to encourage trips other than peak-direction commutes to make this a program that helps more than 25 people a day.

13 Replies to “Mercer Island Giving LimeBike a Try”

  1. 25 bikes isn’t a lot of reverse commuters. Mercer Island has half a dozen restaurants, a couple drugstores, a couple of grocery stores, and some coffee shops that are within a mile or two of the P&R. I could imagine a Starbucks worker seeing a bus + a LimeBike as an alternative to driving her car onto the island every day.

    The drive isn’t that bad, though, so I don’t see much of a motivation. The two jobs I’ve bike commuted to had limited parking. That’s a real motivation to find an alternative method of transportation.

  2. There is /some/ reverse commuting with two elementary schools and the middle school located at the middle and far south ends

  3. Hopefully, the 25-bike thing is:
    1) Just a pilot that will eventually increased if all goes well
    2) Based on the total number of bikes on the island, rather than permits being issued to specific individual bikes. Bikes *will* get ridden across the I-90 bridges to Bellevue and Seattle, and it would be unfair for bikes to count towards Mercer Island’s 25-bike cap, when they aren’t even on Mercer Island.

    I’m expecting nearly all of the Mercer Island ridership to be concentrated along the I-90 trail and the downtown Mercer Island business district, although individual bikes that do make it to the south end of the island might take a long time to get back, absent active re-balancing.

    One thing I would have preferred to see the settlement money go towards is subsidizing the price, especially for first-mile/last-mile station access. It seems unfair for people who take Uber or Lyft to Mercer Island P&R get a fare subsidy, and people who drive and park get to park for free, but people who take a Lime bike have to pay full price, which starts at around $5/round trip, even for somebody that lives just one mile away from the P&R.

    1. If by “start around” $5 you mean $1, then OK. For $5 you can ride around a half an hour.

      You said round trip, so that’d be $2 for unlocking, with a 10-minute trip each way for $5. That hits your $5, but saying “starts around” implies that it would frequently be much more than that.

      1. If a trip is significantly under 10 minutes by bike, it starts to get short enough that you may as well just walk, especially if you have to walk a few minutes to get to the bike anyway. So, yes, any real trip would start at about $2.50 each way, or $5 round trip.

      2. Eh, I’ve covered over two miles in 10 minutes on an ebike. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, that’s not “might as well walk” distance.

      3. I didn’t mean 10 minutes being a literal threshold. It ultimately comes down to how far can you go, while keeping the price at a level you’re willing to pay twice a day, every day, without passes, transfer credit, or employer subsidy.

        Even 10 minutes at $2.50/ride is a lot to be paying twice a day, every single day. $2.50/ride equates to $5/weekday, or $100/month, assuming 20 weekdays per month. To get the cost down to $50/month, the per-ride cost would have to go down to $1.25, which would limit the ride duration to a maximum of 2 minutes, including the time to get on and off the bike. Absent a serious downhill, you would be hard-pressed to ride a bike anywhere in 2 minutes that you couldn’t walk in 5-10 minutes max, so getting the cost down to $50/month does mean riding a distance so short that it becomes too tempting to just walk for free.

        Basically, people’s willingness to pay is much less for trips that occur every single day than trips that occur on a one-off basis. The pedal bike pricing of $1/30 minutes, there are many trips that fall within the “ok to do every day” range. E-bike pricing, on the other hand, there simply is no good-value distance, at least for everyday commuting, rather than occasional use.

        The calculations would change tremendously if, someday, employers started subsidizing employee commutes by bikeshare, the way the subsidize rides on traditional public transit. Which is not really all that crazy, considering that many employers offer much larger subsidies for driving and parking. I even heard that some companies actually go so far as to cover their employee’s tolls to drive across the 520 bridge every day.

  4. I’m curious how fluid the bikes end up being between Seattle, Bellevue and MI. People have been dropping off bikes on the MI side of the i-90 bridge since last summer. In that regard, what does it even mean for MI to “have” 25 bikes? Is that a minimim?

    1. I think it means Lime now has the right to place e-bikes on the island if there are less than 25 bikes there already. As of right now, Mercer Island has three Lime Bikes on it (2 pedal, one e-assist with low battery), so 25 will be a significant increase. It will also mean Mercer Island gets e-bikes with full batteries. Today, by the time the bikes make it over there, the batteries are often mostly depleated.

      I also interpret the rules to mean that any pedal bikes that end up on the island, plus any e-assist bikes there in excess of 25 must be trucked back to Seattle during the daily rebalancing.

  5. 25 bikes? Well… we can cross Mercer Island off the list of candidates for first US suburban bikeshare success story (*) (**). If they were ever on it in the first place.

    (*) “Success story” is just a story, not sustained success — e.g. you could call Seattle a bikeshare success story even though it’s not at all clear any of the companies involved will make it long-term.

    (**) There’s at least one US success story I can think of involving shared bikes, which is suburban, dockless, and precedes the success stories of NYC and DC by a few years, but is limited to a single corporate campus: Google’s GBikes. I don’t think it’s reasonable to call that a bikeshare story because of its private scope, but it’s worth mentioning… anyone really studying what makes bikeshare work should probably at least consider it as an example, with any data publicly available.

    1. I wouldn’t read too much into the 25-bike limit. It sounds small today, but it’s a number that’s easy enough to increase later, if it proves popular. Even with just 25 bikes, if there is any place where the companies will place them during rebalancing, it’s going to be Mercer Island P&R, so they’ll be well positioned for last-mile travel (at least in one direction).

      As to GBikes, the big limitation is that you’re not supposed to return them outside of Google property, so you can’t take them home, or pretty much anywhere except building to building, so you can only really use for trips that are short enough that bike share is really competing more with walking than with driving. It worked great for 1990’s technology. But, I would much prefer a system that is GPS-tracked and allows rides from anywhere to anywhere.

      1. Oh, yeah, Google’s system is useless to the general public (or even for employees’ general mobility)… and real cities don’t look like tech campuses, and shouldn’t. What I mean is that it represents a pretty similar service concept, and is a proven and mature system, so there should be general similarities in terms of stuff like how much maintenance and rebalancing work are required to really keep a station going, what the bike lifecycle looks like, etc.

    2. Mercer Island is 4+ miles long as the crow flies. All the commerce and transportation is on one end. There never was a chance that Mercer Island would be a suburban bikeshare success story. You’d have a hard time designing a worse city for transit.

      This isn’t meant to bash on Mercer Island. Their geography lends themselves to be a big suburban cul-de-sac.

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