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Seattle Experiments With Dockless Bike Share

November 20, 2017  by  Flannary Collins
Category:  Cycling and Walking

Seattle Experiments With Dockless Bike Share

During my daily morning walk over the Montlake Bridge to the University of Washington light rail station, I consistently see all three dockless bike sharing options available in Seattle: Lime Bike, Spin, and ofo.

They all look cheerfully inviting with their bright green, orange, and yellow colors, and I am not alone in thinking so. Ridership over the summer months (July—September) was impressive, with 2.2 trips per bike per day, significantly outperforming the previous Seattle bike sharing program's (Pronto) numbers of 0.7 trips per bike per day.

Program Requirements

Seattle created its pilot program in July 2017, issuing a bike share permit to those operators who applied and met numerous requirements, including:

  1. A bicycle fleet consisting of at least 500 bicycles that met federal and state safety standards
  2. Adequate commercial general liability insurance that indemnifies and holds the city harmless
  3. A performance bond for public property repair and maintenance incurred by the city for removing and storing improperly parked bicycles
  4. A staffed operations center in the city and a 24-hour customer service phone number for reporting safety concerns and complaints, or to ask questions

Additionally, program operators were required to have visible, written notification that lets users know bike helmets are required, bicyclists must yield to pedestrians on sidewalks, and bikes must be parked properly in the landscape/ furniture zone of the sidewalk. 

Seattle’s program provided for a slow roll-out of available bikes, with permitted operators allowed 500 bikes each in July, 1,000 each in August, 2,000 each in September, and an unlimited amount from October—December.

A September 2017 Seattle Department of Transportation update provided to the Seattle City Council Sustainability and Transportation Committee shows a successful program, with ridership increasing each month and riders participating citywide.

Next Steps

Seattle’s pilot program ends in December 2017, after which SDOT will analyze the data collected and recommend a permanent program. No other cities in Washington State have yet joined the dockless bike sharing trend, although many Eastside cities are looking into it (and waiting to see Seattle’s data analysis of its pilot program), including Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond.


All is not roses with the program. Many cities neighboring Seattle have experienced riders leaving bikes in their jurisdictions even though the Seattle permit only authorizes bike operation within the city of Seattle. The permit does not address the issue of bikes being taken outside of Seattle, so it ultimately becomes the responsibility of the jurisdiction where the bike is left, as well as the bike company operator.

Another common complaint with the bike sharing program is that riders ignore the bike helmet requirement, which is the law in Seattle. Finally, with the recent wind and rain pelting Seattle in November, the fallen-down bikes cluttering the sidewalks are a bit of an eyesore.

Questions? Comments?

What do you think about Seattle’s dockless bike sharing program, including how it will fare during Seattle’s lengthy winter? If you have thoughts about this blog post, please comment below or email me.

If you have questions about this or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Flannary Collins

Flannary Collins is the Managing Attorney for MRSC. Flannary first joined MRSC as a legal consultant in August 2013 after serving as assistant city attorney for the city of Shoreline where she advised all city departments on a wide range of issues.

At MRSC, Flannary enjoys providing legal guidance to municipalities on all municipal issues, including the OPMA, PRA, and personnel. She also serves on the WSAMA Board of Directors as Secretary-Treasurer.

VIEW ALL POSTS BY Flannary Collins


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