Bike shares wheeling back into Seattle, but they’re unlike Pronto in 2 big ways

Bike shares wheeling back into Seattle, but they’re unlike Pronto in 2 big ways
  1. Bike shares wheeling back into Seattle, but they’re unlike Pronto in 2 big ways
    Two private bike-share companies are waiting on approval to drop 1,000 shareable bikes on city streets. The bikes have no docking stations and aren’t getting any public f…
    Washington (WA)

Bike shares are returning to Seattle. Soon. And bigger than before.

When, earlier this year, the city folded Pronto, the bike-share system it owned, it took 500 bikes off the streets.

Sometime this week, there should be 1,000 shareable bikes on the streets. And in the coming months, there will likely be even more.

Two big differences between these bikes and Pronto: The new bikes have no stations where bikes must be picked up and returned to. Pick one up wherever you find it and leave it at your destination. And, unlike Pronto, the bikes are privately owned and are receiving no government funding.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Learn more about Traffic Lab »

Bike shares are booming in the United States. Nationwide, riders took about 320,000 rides on bike-share bikes in 2010, according to the National Association of County Transportation Officials. Last year, that number was 28 million.

But bike shares of the sort launching in Seattle — private, for-profit and stationless — are just starting in the United States.

Six weeks ago, the two companies that plan to spread bikes throughout Seattle weren’t operating anywhere else in the United States. Seattle, one of the largest U.S. cities without a traditional bike share, is poised to become a testing ground for this new breed of bike share, as the two companies, and perhaps a half-dozen more, battle for riders.

Both companies say they’re ready to launch and are waiting on approval from the Seattle Department of Transportation. SDOT says it expects to approve the company’s applications this week. Once approvals are in, bikes will start showing up on the streets.

Here’s what you need to know about the bikes and the bike-share companies that want you to ride them.

Who owns the bikes?

Two companies are launching in Seattle — Spin and LimeBike. Both are privately owned, based in the Bay Area and funded with millions of dollars of venture-capital money.

LimeBike, in the last several weeks, has started smaller bike shares in South Bend, Indiana, and at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Spin did a trial launch in Austin, Texas, earlier this year, but Seattle would be its first permanent city.

Each company will open with 500 bikes (a number mandated by the city), but plans to expand. The city’s rules allow them to expand to 1,000 bikes each in early August, 2,000 bikes in September and however many they want in October.

Both companies say they’ll start with bikes placed around downtown, Capitol Hill, South Lake Union and other center-city neighborhoods, and will branch out more to other neighborhoods as they’re allowed to expand.

At least two other companies — VBikes and Koloni Share — say they have plans to open in Seattle in the coming weeks or months, but are not as far along in the application process.

How does it work?

Both companies work the same way. Download their app on your smartphone and enter your credit-card information. On the app, a map will pop up showing nearby bikes. Find one. The bikes have a lock through their back wheel. You unlock it by scanning a QR code on the bike with your phone’s camera, or typing a numerical code into your phone.

Like magic, the bike unlocks. Ride it where you want to go. When you’re done, put the lock back through the wheel and leave it.

The companies tout the service as ideal for a quick trip across a neighborhood or as a first- and last-mile option for commutes — take a bike from your house to the light rail or from your bus stop to your workplace.

How much does it cost?

Not much — $1 for a 30-minute ride and another $1 for each 30 minutes after that.

Both companies say they can make money by attracting a high volume of riders and by ditching the overhead costs associated with docking stations.

But both companies will likely also look to sell advertising within the app at some point. Picture the app, which knows your location and also — if you use it frequently — your riding habits, recommending a local coffee shop.

Where do you leave the bike?

Pretty much wherever, but use common sense. You can’t block the street or the sidewalk. Bikes are supposed to be parked in the “landscape/furniture zone” of the sidewalk. That’s the strip of pavement between the street and the traveled part of the sidewalk, where trees, parking meters and bike racks tend to be.

Don’t leave the bikes on grassy areas, at bus stops, in loading zones or on sidewalk corners. SDOT wrote the rules and has authority over streets and sidewalks; it can’t give permission for the bikes to be left in public parks (which aren’t under SDOT jurisdiction) or on college campuses. So those are a gray area, for now.

If it’s a place where you’d lock your own bike, it’s probably a good place to leave a bike-share bike.

What are bikes like?

Spin’s are orange; LimeBike’s are bright green with yellow trim.

Beyond that, they’re pretty similar, but LimeBike may be better suited for Seattle’s terrain.

They both have steel frames and are sturdy and pretty heavy.

Both have in-hub gears, drum brakes, foam-filled anti-flat tires, a chain guard and front and rear fenders.


  1. “Complete devastation” for some near California wildfire - Washington (WA)
    07.22 / 08:26
    By SCOTT SMITH and OLGA R. RODRIGUEZAssociated Press FRESNO, Calif. (AP) – A chimney…
  2. Federal grand jury indicts US soldier on terrorism charges - Washington (WA)
    07.22 / 08:26
    By CALEB JONES HONOLULU (AP) – A federal grand jury in Hawaii indicted a…
  3. Car shears off power pole in Battle Ground - Vancouver
    07.22 / 08:25
    A vehicle traveling on Northeast 82nd Avenue in Battle Ground sheared off a power pole at the intersection of Northeast 279th Street on Friday evening. No one was…
  4. Washington man pedaling his way through retirement
    07.22 / 08:01
    MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — Alfred Allen can often be seen cruising around town or down the Latah Trail in Moscow in his recumbent quad, shiny streamers flapping in the wind. Other times he can be found parked outside One World Cafe as he enjoys his daily cup a coffee. His recumbent quad is hard to […
  5. Composer Timothy Brock returns to West Seattle to support restoration of Admiral Theater
    07.22 / 08:01
    Brock now lives in Bologna, Italy, and is one of only three people restoring old silent scores and performing live for silent film showings. He’ll be in town Tuesday, July 2…
  6. Washington man pedaling his way through retirement - WA
    07.22 / 07:46
    Alfred Allen can often be seen cruising around town or down the Latah Trail in Moscow in his recumbent quad, shiny streamers flapping in the wind. Other times he can … Click to Continue…
  7. Oregon business uses beetles to clean hunting trophies - WA
    07.22 / 07:46
    The idea of beetles stripping flesh from bones sounds like the plot of a horror movie but, in the case of a Lyle business, it is how beautiful pieces of … Click to Continue…
  8. Industrial internship gives Washington at-risk youth a boast - WA
    07.22 / 07:46
    Six months ago, Steven Jordan lived in survival mode. As the sole provider for his unemployed mother, young sister and himself, the 19-year old scraped together whatever he could to … Click to Continue…
  9. Minneapolis chief resigns after shooting of Australian woman - Washington (WA)
    07.22 / 07:26
    By AMY FORLITI and STEVE KARNOWSKIAssociated Press MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Minneapolis police Chief Janee…
  10. Spontaneous heat not ruled out as cause of barn fire - Vancouver
    07.22 / 07:25
    Fire investigators couldn’t rule out spontaneous heating as a cause for a fire that destroyed a Ridgefield barn and 140 tons of hay Wednesday m…
  11. Cigarettes blamed for fire damaging home - Vancouver
    07.22 / 07:25
    Improperly discarded cigarettes caused a fire that damaged a manufactured home in Vancouver’s North Hearthwood n…
  12. Research shows a way to teach babies second language - WA
    07.22 / 07:25
    SEATTLE — For decades, researchers have built a compelling amount of evidence that the earlier you introduce a child to a second language, the stronger his or her bilingual skills will b…
  13. Oregon students await word on college grants - WA
    07.22 / 07:25
    Thousands of students will learn next month whether they will receive Oregon Promise grants to help reduce the cost of tuition at community college this fall, but hundreds of applicants who would’ve qualified during the program’s first year will receive some bad new…
  14. McMenamins may not rescue Tacoma’s Old City Hall - WA
    07.22 / 07:25
    TACOMA — Almost two years after Tacoma first danced with the dream of a grand McMenamins footprint in Tacoma, one part of that vision is tiptoeing a…
  15. Century-old train wreck fascinates historians - WA
    07.22 / 07:25
    MEDFORD, Ore. — Forest Park, a lush retreat outside Jacksonville, Ore., was once a focal point of economic a…
  16. Kennewick native earns Miss Washington crown - WA
    07.22 / 07:25
    Nicole Renard has spent most of her life striving for the opportunity to become Miss…
  17. Judge nearly leaves yard in Yankees’ 5-1 win over Mariners - Washington (WA)
    07.22 / 06:28
    By TIM BOOTHAP Sports Writer SEATTLE (AP) – Aaron Judge hit a colossal three-run…
  18. Minneapolis shooting brings unwelcome attention to Somalis - Washington (WA)
    07.22 / 06:28
    By AMY FORLITI and STEVE KARNOWSKIAssociated Press MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – An unarmed Australian woman’s…
  19. Train derails, spilling grain near Spangle - Washington (WA)
    07.22 / 06:28
    A train carrying grain has derailed along Highway 195 between Plaza and Spangle.  The…
  20. Sponsor spotlight: Boost your metabolism with exercise - Edmonds
    07.22 / 06:07
    Your next workout could set you up for a speedier metabolism. Your metabolism includes all the things your body does to turn food into energy and keep you going. Some people have a faster metabolism than others. Some things that affect whether your metabolism is speedy or sluggish include things you don’t control, like your…