Rarely does an industry have such a quick rise and sudden drop as the bikeshare business has had in Seattle. Last year it would have been odd if you didn’t see a mass of multicolored bicycles across the streets, from red Jump bikes to the yellow Ofos and green Lime bicycles.
Lime took its 2,000 bikes off Seattle streets in December and now the Jump bicycles will be temporarily absent, as well, with Lime taking over the red bike’s business operations this month. Lime acquired Jump on May 7 after Uber, which owned the latter, led a $170 million investment in Lime that “reaffirms Lime’s market strength and positions the company to build a long-lasting business that empowers people with sustainable, safe and affordable transportation options,” the company said in an announcement.
This comes as the bike rental business has fallen off a cliff during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were just 23,400 trips in April, compared to 158,600 trips in April 2019, according to Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) data.
“We recognize that the COVID-19 has impacted all areas of life including new mobility companies, and we are evaluating our options with these impacts in mind,” SDOT spokesperson Ethan Bergerson said in an email.
The Seattle Bike Blog calls the loss devastating:
The sudden loss of bike share is pretty devastating. People in Seattle took 2.2 million bike share rides in 2019. That’s more trips than both Seattle Streetcar lines combined, but at no cost to the city budget. And that entire mode of transportation is just gone now.
Still, with the decay in the industry’s growth efforts here, ridership was down even before the city was feeling the effects of the pandemic. In January, for example, trips dropped to 64,000 from 92,000 the year before. Similarly, Lime was deploying just half of the bikes it had in January 2019, with anywhere from 2,200 to 3,200 on Seattle streets in the first month of this year.
Meanwhile, 2019 was a successful year for bikeshare in Seattle, as 2.2 million trips were logged and overall bike ridership increased by 18% over the previous year, Bergerson noted.
Seattle has also continued to invest in new bike infrastructure including its new Stay Healthy Streets program. 2019 brought new major bike-friendly infrastructure to Capitol Hill. New protected bike lanes now run up and down Pike in a connection between Broadway and downtown and are positioned by SDOT as “temporary” infrastructure that could be part of larger, long-term changes to the Pike/Pine travel corridors. The Community Package Coalition, a group of local organizations working to ensure the Washington State Convention Center Addition project plans included a suite of public benefits in exchange for vacations of right of way required for the expansion, secured $10 million for protected bike lanes.
Seattle’s peak period of “sharing” growth appears to have paused with various automobile services also shuttering or ceasing operation here.
Jonathan Hopkins, Lime’s director of Strategic Development for the Northwest, U.S. and western Canada, told The Seattle Times the bikes are temporarily absent from streets for maintenance and system changes without giving a date of when they would be coming back.
Bergerson said Lime told SDOT that it is “still working out the details of how they plan to take over Jump’s operations.”
Lime, meanwhile, has been pushing its electric scooter programs in other cities, but Hopkins told The Times that Lime is “just as committed as before” to the idea of bikes and scooters in the Emerald City.
“They’ll be back as soon as we can, with the fleet Seattleites have become used to,” Hopkins wrote in a tweet last week. “Unlike airline mergers where prep is done for years in advance, this integration had to happen in real time. We are committed to multimodal service of the city and get them back on the street soon.” He told KOMO that bike shares alone is not a sustainable business model, however.
When the bikes do eventually return, they will be the red Jump bikes available for rent on the Jump, Lime, or Uber apps, according to KOMO.
Behind other cities in its development of an e-scooter program, Seattle’s program is currently going through the environmental review process after a March hearing in front of the city Hearing Examiner. Bergerson said SDOT is awaiting the decision from the hearing examiner “in the near future.”
Joel Miller, who is managing the proposal for SDOT, testified at the March hearing that the e-scooter and bike share program would allow up to 20,000 scooters and bikes. The existing bike share program allows up to 20,000 bikes, but fewer than half that were deployed last year in August, the peak month in 2019, according to SDOT data.
If brought to Seattle, scooters would likely be ridden in bike lanes, but not sidewalks, following safety concerns raised during SDOT’s public input period last year.
For now, bikers around Capitol Hill will need to get their own wheels. If you need to go shopping, bike advocates have put together a guide to bicycle shops operating during the COVID-19 crisis.
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