When Ofo first announced its departure, the company attributed the decision to the new fee structure, which adds up to $250,000 for a fleet 5,000 bicycles (or $50 per bike). Fees go toward administering the bike-share permit, addressing equity issues, and developing parking solutions for the bicycles…
Like with Ofo, which also recently announced its bikes wouldn’t be returning, a Spin spokesperson cited high permit fees as a deciding factor.
If the companies are truthfully blaming the new fees, it would be a spectacular own-goal from the City. A light regulatory touch made Seattle into a dockless bikeshare success story. Taxing into oblivion the lowest-cost, lowest-impact transportation service imaginable while dumping cash into buses, trains, and cars would mock all the goals Seattle ostensibly has.
However, Ofo is broadly retreating from the U.S., and Spin may pivot to e-scooters. Blaming regulators is a better excuse than “we ran our business into the ground.” So readers can choose to believe the best or the worst about what SDOT and City Council wrought.
Regardless, never fear: JUMP (Uber) and Motivate (Lyft) are not deterred by exorbitant permit fees ($).
Though the city’s recently passed bike-share regulations allow up to four companies to operate up to 5,000 bikes each, only three applied for permits. The application period recently closed.
If we’re still at three companies, and more heavily capitalized ones at that, I suppose that’s a good thing.
But JUMP is an all-electric fleet, Limebike is shifting to higher-margin E-bikes, and David Gutman reports that Motivate’s fleet composition is unclear. Certainly, a $50/bike tax to fund a wish list of non-essential programs puts pressure on these companies to squeeze more out of riders using premium bikes. The new landscape may be a bad one for fans of the manual bikes, like me.
At $1, bikeshare is competitive with walking short distances; that makes transit more attractive when it’s not quite getting you where you want to go. As rates move into the $3-5 range, Limebikes are as expensive as transit and not that much cheaper than Car2Go or ReachNow.* Also easier to ride farther than manual bikes, E-bikes are more of an alternative to other modes than a complement to them. That doesn’t make E-bikes bad, but if we lose the $1 manual bike, Seattle will have lost something important.
* Though vastly more available than either of the carshare companies. I can’t remember the last time I needed a short-term car rental where I didn’t have to take transit to get to it.