Special gravel coverage

As dockless bike share booms in Seattle, Portland stands pat (for now)

Posted by on July 28th, 2017 at 10:22 am

Seattle’s orange bikes seemingly came out of nowhere and have quickly saturated the city. What would happen if they launched in Portland?
(Images: Spin Seattle)

Is there room for another bike share system in Portland?

A company called Spin that just launched in Seattle thinks so. Spin is a start-up fueled by venture capitalists and founded by Derrick Ko, a former product manager at Lyft who’s now Spin’s CEO.

In his first major play, Ko plopped 500 bikes on Seattle streets last week. So far the results have exceeded expectations. Seattle Bike Blog reports that people took over 5,000 trips on the bikes in the first week and rave reviews are pouring in on social media.

With bad memories from their failed first attempt fading quickly, Seattleites have embraced the latest bike share trend: a stationless (a.k.a. dockless) system run by a private company that offers cheap rides and a citywide service area with no strings attached. All it takes to unlock a Spin bike (or a LimeBike, which also just launched in Seattle) is an app and a buck. There are no pricing plans, no memberships, and no stations to find. Just find a bike, tap a few buttons on your phone, and get rolling. When you’re done just close the rear lock and leave the bike wherever you want. Spin charges $1 for every half hour you’re in the saddle (Biketown’s cheapest fare is $2.50).

Tom Fucoloro with Seattle Bike Blog likes what he sees. “If these companies succeed how they think they will,” Fucoloro wrote Tuesday, “we’re on the verge of a major non-motorized transportation revolution in our city.” He also issued a warning to other cities: “Any traditional bike share system that hasn’t built out a very dense network of stations should be working hard right now to figure out how to compete. Outside maybe a few extremely dense and tourist-heavy cities like New York, that old… pass pricing model is going to get crushed by $1 rides. Maybe even giants like NYC’s CitiBike are vulnerable.”

Is Biketown vulnerable to the stationless revolution?

Biketown bikes are hemmed in by a relatively small service area that leaves many Portlanders without bike share.

Unlike New York City’s CitiBike system, Biketown uses “smart bikes” that have all their technology on-board instead of in large expensive stations. This gives Biketown distinct advantages over kiosk-dependent systems, primarily because the bikes and stations are cheaper and easier to move around. It’s a decentralized model that Biketown Program Manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth says should give stationless bike share companies like Spin pause.

At a PBOT bike advisory committee meeting in May, Hoyt-McBeth acknowledged stationless systems are likely on their way but said Biketown’s use of smart bikes, “makes our market a little less attractive to those competitors.”

But “those competitors” have distinct advantages of their own. Beyond its less expensive $1 rides, Biketown doesn’t offer quite as much freedom and convenience to users as the leave-it-anywhere-you-want model does. Biketown bikes must be returned to a station or to a designated bike rack to avoid a $2 fee. Park a Biketown bike outside the service area — which still comes nowhere near reaching the entire city — and you’ll be charged $20.

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Asked how Biketown would compete with stationless systems, PBOT Communications Director John Brady said, “We feel Biketown provides the best of both worlds. Our 100-plus stations make finding a bike throughout the service area reliable and easy, while Biketown’s smart-bike technology makes it convenient to park at any of our 4,000 bike racks.” Brady also stood up for Biketown’s supplier Social Bicycles (SoBi), which he called, “North America’s original dockless bike share system.” “We began talking with SoBi in 2012 and utilizing their technology has been on our plans long before dockless bike share emerged,” he said.

Brady pointed to PBOT’s recent creation of “super hub zones” (areas where you can park at any rack without incurring the $2 fee) and expansion into north and northeast Portland by using existing bike parking and without adding more bikes or stations to the system as, “examples of how flexibility and the potential for innovation are built into the very DNA of our system.”

We got a clue about how PBOT will respond to stationless bike share two years ago when Spinlister threatened to launch a system here. Hoyt-McBeth told us at the time that his concern would be that PBOT would end up maintaining the fleet. “If you’re going to operate a bike share system in the public realm, then we want to make sure those bikes are cared for,” he said. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re the de-facto rebalancing instrument through our abandoned bike [telephone] line… We just want to know how they’re going to make sure their bikes don’t get abandoned.”

PBOT and Motivate (Biketown’s operator) could make their bikes even more flexible by allowing them to be parked anywhere, but so far that’s not in the plans. Highly visible stations serve a purpose for Biketown that transcends utility. Because the system is reliant on sponsorship dollars, stations are important marketing tools. It’s unlikely Nike would have put $10 million on the table without also getting 100 shoe-box colored pieces of prime urban real estate. Stations also educate users while providing a strong visual cue that assuages doubts about how the system works.

Given the strengths and weaknesses of both systems, perhaps they can coexist.

A complement? Or a competitor?

“Station-based systems are great… But we look at them like the bus or the train in a city… We are more of a taxi.”
— Derrick Ko, Spin CEO

In an interview yesterday, Spin’s Ko told me he sees his system more as a complement to Biketown, not a competitor.

He gave kudos to our “fantastic system” and said Social Bicycles “did a great job.” But Ko also pointed out that Biketown’s primary use-case is still centered around kiosks. That lack of freedom to place bikes wherever users want leads to less coverage and ultimately fewer rides. “We’ve seen over 5,000 in one week… We’re reaching neighborhoods Pronto didn’t cover,” Ko said, “That’s really what stationless gives you. That coverage to provide a new transportation option to people in all neighborhoods.”

By comparison, Biketown averaged about 14,500 rides per week when it launched. But that was with twice as many bikes (1,000 versus Spin’s 500) and after years of planning.

Portland spent over nine years trying to make bike share happen before Biketown finally launched in 2016. The road that led to Nike’s $10 million sponsorship deal began in 2013. In stark contrast, Ko told us he started talks with the City of Seattle in April of this year. Four months later he had 500 bikes on the ground and another 500 are coming next week.

The quick launch and adoption by users reminds me of when Uber and Lyft drivers first hit the streets. That’s how Ko sees it too. “Station-based systems are great, they’ve helped form the foundation by changing a lot of attitudes about bikes being a legitimate public transportation option. But we look at them like the bus or the train in a city. They get you to drop-off points. We are more of a taxi, or like Uber or Lyft getting you from point-to-point.”

“Both systems are coexisting in the vehicular world and there’s no reason two systems can’t exist in the world of alternative transportation,” he added.

Room for more?

From Portland’s contract with Motivate, Inc., Biketown’s operator.

Even if it made sense from a practical standpoint to have more than one bike share system at the same time, the arrangement would have to get the blessing of the City of Portland. Unlike Uber — or the aggressive stationless systems flooding China like Ofo and Mobike — Ko says Spin prefers to work closely with local governments before launching. The City of Seattle and Spin hashed out a permit agreement before any bikes hit the streets. The same would have to happen in Portland.

PBOT’s Brady said a private bike share company would have to follow existing regulations for operating in the right-of-way. And, he added, “Dockless bike share systems would require additional regulations to be developed.”

And Nike’s presence could also make life more difficult for a company like Spin. While only the title sponsor of Biketown, Nike will want to protect its investment and PBOT would be loathe to ruffle their feathers by welcoming another bike share provider (especially one that uses orange bikes!).

As for exclusivity, PBOT’s contract doesn’t appear to give Motivate Inc. (Biketown’s operator) an exclusive right to operate bike rental systems in Portland. According to our interpretation, the contract only gives them the exclusive license to operate Biketown. And while PBOT says they aren’t looking for any more bike share partners at the moment, they’re also not dismissing the idea.

What would PBOT say if Spin were to inquire? “Without seeing a specific proposal,” Brady said via email when I asked him that question yesterday, “it’s really too soon to say. As with any new transportation option, we would consider whether a proposed system met our larger policy goals…”

Then Brady followed up that email with a phone call to add this. “We’re very happy with Biketown. We’re not actively considering another system.”

So far Spin hasn’t made any formal inquiries. Ko says, “We are still looking at it and trying to figure out how best we can fit into the Portland scene.” “We’d love to come to Portland,” he added, “I think it’d be an amazing fit.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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  • 9watts July 28, 2017 at 10:42 am

    We have been led to believe that with the station-based systems, moving bikes from areas with too many bikes back to stations that are mostly empty (rebalancing) seemed like a sizable effort. I wonder how this approach meshes with this observed problem? Does it make it worse? Obviate the need?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 28, 2017 at 10:53 am

      yes. Biketown’s smart bike system saves a lot of money over previous generation systems like CitiBike or Capital Bike Share because it requires less rebalancing… And stationless systems like Spin and LimeBike require even less rebalancing than Biketown. I’m not an expert on stationless yet but I don’t think they require any rebalancing.. except for bikes that might get way afield of the city or become stranded for one reason or another.

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      • 9watts July 28, 2017 at 10:55 am

        That is really interesting. I’d like to understand this better. Intuitively I could imagine the problem could be worsened, but clearly Car2Go has it figured out… Maybe having no stations just means that the customers get to rebalance the fleet?

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 28, 2017 at 11:21 am

          yes that’s the idea… And you have change thinking and imagine many more thousands of bikes on the street. Seattle Bike Blog says Spin wants as many as 10,000 eventually. The idea is to just have them everywhere… more ubiquitous than sidewalks. The thinking is that more bikes = more riders and more riders = more profit. It’s all about scale. That’s what some see as the downside when they look at what has happened in China where private companies have unloaded many 1000s of bikes on the streets without regard to right-of-way standards (which Spin says they would never do).

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          • Asher July 28, 2017 at 11:38 am

            More than sidewalks is the kind of hyperbole that has city planners needlessly opposing these systems.

            We can start to get concerned when bikes take up as much space as on-street parking does (1 car space ~ 10 bikes). The operators won’t want so many bikes that the marginal usage is zero.

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          • John Lascurettes July 28, 2017 at 12:03 pm

            Can you expand on what “right of way standards” means? Is that referring to how much storage space they take up?

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            • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 28, 2017 at 12:11 pm

              yes. Portland has relatively strict ordinances about what private companies can do in the public right-of-way. Recall tussles that flare up from time to time with cafe seating or umbrellas or those annoying tents that cell phone companies like cricket always put up on sidewalks.

              Also recall that in 2015 Spinlister said they were going to launch a bike share system. Here’s what we reported from PBOTregarding that prospect:

              “If you’re going to operate a bike share system in the public realm, then we want to make sure those bikes are cared for,” city bike share project manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth said Wednesday. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re the de facto rebalancing instrument through our abandoned bike [telephone] line.”

              Bradway said that if Spinlister plans to launch, some sort of official plan for keeping the bikes maintained is “a conversation that needs to happen.”

              “We don’t have to know their whole business model,” Hoyt-McBeth said. “We just want to know how they’re going to make sure their bikes don’t get abandoned.”

              If Spin or LimeBike want access to PBOT-owned right of way there will be some serious negotiations before anything happens… Unless one of these companies does an Uber and rams themselves in.

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              • John Lascurettes July 28, 2017 at 1:10 pm

                Tangentially related — anyone know what the policy is on those sandwich boards are when a business locks one up to a city staple (and therefore making it harder to securely lock my bike to it)?

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              • paikiala July 28, 2017 at 2:43 pm
              • John Lascurettes July 29, 2017 at 4:23 pm

                Thanks, paikiala. That’s helpful. If I’m reading this section right, it sounds like anchoring the sign to any city-owned property is in violation: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/citycode/?c=28763#cid_447901

                Funny enough, where I’m talking about is at 819 SE Morrison. There’s one blue staple there and one custom staple. The blue staple is the one that has secure, non-standard bolts, and the brown one only has standard bolts (that is, easily defeated with any ordinary wrench). So when I lock up there, I always use the blue staple — but one of the businesses inside that building always chains their sign to the blue staple with a short chain, making it difficult to properly lock up to that staple. I think I’ll print out the page from the link above and highlight the part about not attaching to city property and deliver that to the business. Do blue staples count as “city property”?

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          • dan July 28, 2017 at 12:16 pm

            I just came back from a trip to China where I visited Xi’an and Chengdu. Stationless bike share is _huge_ there, to the point that the bikeshare bikes were maybe 95% of the bikes I saw – there are hardly any privately owned bikes on the street anymore. And bikes are everywhere! I doubt I was ever more than 100 feet away from one of their bikes.

            If anyone is interested, I have photos I can share 🙂

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  • Todd Boulanger July 28, 2017 at 11:24 am

    After helping dismantle the Seattle Pronto bikeshare system and working with other cities to hardwire mini-Bikestations on city streets…the advantages of dockless system from a roll out (or roll up) ops perspective are stark (especially the lack of permit fees and utility fees)…it will be exciting to see in Seattle where user demand differs from Pronto due to its flexibility…

    …When I was a planning student in Hawaii, a community elder once told us…’brah, there is no need to spend too much time preplanning a transit route …just drive the bus down the street and if no one gets on move it to the next street’. 😉 [Similar to what Ford in now doing in NYC and SF.]

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  • MaxD July 28, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Here is one one way that Spin is a massive improvement over Biketown: Kids 13 and older and use it (Biketown forbids anyone under the age of 18 (!) from riding). From the Spin terms and Conditions:
    The Services are not intended for persons under 13.

    By using the Services, you certify that you are at least 18 years of age. Or you certify that you are the Parent or Legal Guardian of the Member, who is 13 years of age or older and have read and agreed to the terms and conditions set forth on behalf of yourself and the Member, and you authorize the use of the Services by such minor Member.

    If you are under the age of 13, you must not use or access the Services.

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    • rh July 28, 2017 at 12:03 pm

      I always thought that was weird too. You can legally drive before being able to use a Biketown?!

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      • 9watts July 28, 2017 at 12:06 pm

        helmet laws?

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        • John Lascurettes July 28, 2017 at 1:12 pm

          That’s 16 and younger though, right? So it doesn’t dovetail with either their 13 nor 18 year old thresholds.

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          • GlowBoy July 31, 2017 at 10:54 am

            King County’s (Seattle’s) helmet law is all-ages. No 13, 16 or 18 year threshold.

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            • John Lascurettes July 31, 2017 at 5:12 pm

              Thanks for playing, but we’re talking specifically about the policies of Biketown, which operates exclusively in Portland. Portland has no local helmet law. Oregon has a 16 and under helmet law.

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              • John Lascurettes July 31, 2017 at 5:16 pm

                Derp. I get it now. Where Spin operates. I missed that the top post intermixed details of Biketown’s policies with Spin’s (in Seattle) policies.

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  • Ray Atkinson July 28, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    As the below post discusses, the Washington, DC region may be the first US region to have a stationless bikeshare system launch in the same area where a station-based bikeshare system already exists. Mobike is planning to launch in the same area where Capital Bikeshare currently exists. I ride Capital Bikeshare daily, so I’m curious to see how Mobike changes the bikeshare market in the Washington, DC region.


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  • J_R July 28, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    I predict a large contingent of PBOT staffers will need to take a few more fact-finding trips to be able to consider the benefits of and craft the regulations for a competitive, dockless system. Maybe another task force, too. And a logo. And a report. Maybe a consultant to help craft an RFP.

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    • Adam
      Adam July 28, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      See you in 5-10 years!

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      • soren July 29, 2017 at 9:20 am

        wow…you are such an optimist!

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    • David Hampsten July 28, 2017 at 7:13 pm

      Meanwhile, I expect Gresham, Lake O, and Milwaukie will give LimeBike (or some similar company) exclusive rights to its city, with most of the bikes ending up being used in Portland, and the City of Portland being legally helpless, taking years to reply.

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  • Chris I July 28, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    “We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re the de-facto rebalancing instrument through our abandoned bike [telephone] line… We just want to know how they’re going to make sure their bikes don’t get abandoned.”

    Easy solution. Abandoned bikes are collected and sold at auction. That should pay for the cost of collection.

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  • Kyle Banerjee July 28, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    More bike share is a good thing.

    Though 5,000 trips for 500 bikes in one week makes for 1.4 rides per day per bike — hardly mind blowing. But if they can pay the bills, I’m all for it.

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    • SE Rider July 28, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      at the peak of the riding season. Seattle is a tough bikeshare market though (pretty hilly), so those aren’t terrible numbers for a first week.

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  • David Hampsten July 28, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    In June LimBike deployed 125 one-speed bikes here in hilly Greensboro NC, all at UNCG, with 75 3-speeds added during July. 800 more 3-speeds will be steadily added during August & Sept, with 400 total for UNCG, 200 for A&T, and the remaining 400 slated for downtown, with a big to-do on August 4th. They have a staff of about 6 here, mostly part-time. LimeBike just secured an exclusive municipal contract with the city: the city pays nothing (no subsidy), they won’t collect bikes for Limebike, but they also won’t let in any competition either; Limebike agrees to have at least 1,000 bikes at any one time and to give the city the ride data, so the city can figure out where to prioritize bikeway improvements. The guys who go around by van collecting the stray bikes report rides of over 6 miles outside of the core area.

    As for the advocacy I do here, LimeBike has been a huge game-changer. Up until LimeBike, the city was always super conservative on any new bike infrastructure. Now they are eager to add bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, sharrows, and fix signals to recognize bikes. They are even openly discussing bike boxes and protected bike lanes. It helps that both public universities here (UNCG & A&T) are now active participants rather than passive institutions in the process, with ‘skin in the game’. The transformation has been amazing.

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    • Asher July 28, 2017 at 2:22 pm

      Wow, that sounds awesome. Is there a write-up anywhere? You might want to do your own writeup for Streetsblog or another urbanist/bike blog. Dockless bikeshare seems like the most likely source of quick marked progress compared to anything that city governments would do.

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  • Adam
    Adam July 28, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Biketown should just start waiving the $2 out-of-station fee. I find myself locking outside of a dock and just eating the $2 more often than I spend circling the block looking for a dock.

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    • Kyle Banerjee July 28, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      Where’s the sense in that? People like you help keep the system afloat 🙂

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      • Adam
        Adam July 28, 2017 at 2:57 pm

        Hah, perhaps. My Biketown bill last month was $45 because of a handful of out-of-dock fees and because I rode it all the way home once (I live about a mile outside the service area) because it was late at night and didn’t feel like dealing with the bus. 😛

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        • Kyle Banerjee July 28, 2017 at 8:30 pm

          For $20, I’d walk pretty far. Definitely wouldn’t take the bus. You could hoof that mile in 20 minutes.

          But why not take your Dutch bike for stuff like that? The Biketown bikes are heavier and slower than your normal rig which gets you door to door and has to be more comfortable to boot.

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          • Adam
            Adam July 28, 2017 at 8:53 pm

            I did that once. Parked at the end of the service area and walked the 20 minutes home. It’s honestly not too bad. The time I cycled all the way home was after a Timbers match and I was tired and just wanted to get home quicker. I usually take the bus/Biketown to the stadium because I don’t like leaving my bike parked outside at night downtown and they don’t allow folding bikes into the stadium.

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            • Kyle Banerjee July 29, 2017 at 8:30 pm

              The bike theft problem is a major disincentive for cycling. I have a special bike that I’ll lock to racks, but I don’t like locking even that one up downtown at night (though I sometimes do it).

              Biketown service area is just a bit too small for me to be able to use it. If it expands the right directions, I’ll totally be on board.

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    • dan July 28, 2017 at 3:35 pm

      Yeah, exactly – Biketown can operate as a dockless system pretty readily, right?

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  • John Liu
    John Liu July 28, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    I’m in Seattle this week and have seen many Limebikes and Spinbikes.

    The Spinbikes look very easy to steal. A bolt cutter to the rear wheel lock. (Or simply pick the bike up and take it away.) A hammer to disable the electronics. Then there is a rear wheel with a three speed hub, a front wheel with a generator hub, headlight and taillight, and other useful and valuable parts. All of the fasteners are standard or only mildly tamper resistant.

    The Limebikes use theft resistant axle bolts, but it would be just as easy to steal the bike and then defeat the bolts at one’s leisure. The Limebike has a nicer rear hub as a reward for the extra effort.

    Spinbike and Limebike may end up being a generous contribution of bikes and components to the city’s bike chop shops.

    These companies are being funded with VC money, so they will be around as long as the money lasts. How long will that be?

    Figure a bike probably needs to be rented (very rough guess) 500 to 800 times to pay for itself, at $1/per rental. At 1.4 rentals/day/bike, the average bike needs to survive 285-570 days on the street to pay for itself. Now factor in operating and administrative costs, and the lifespan required to break even might be well over three years. It will be interesting to see if these free floating bikes, easily stolen, last long enough to make the system financially viable.

    On the “rebalancing” topic, sharebikes are ridden less on uphill routes, than on flat and on downhill routes. So, absent active rebalancing, there won’t be many share bikes in higher elevation areas. Fortunately Portland is fairly flat.

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    • David Hampsten July 28, 2017 at 7:06 pm

      You are assuming LimeBike is paying retail for their bikes. They are not, they buy them direct from manufacturers, somewhere between $25 and $50/bike (for comparison, $35 is the average price that Walmart pays for a bike straight off the boat, according to Bicycle Retailer). Their biggest cost is shipping, usually in huge containers, plus storage, plus the cost of their staff. Here in Greensboro, bike theft is rare, for any bike. In Seattle or Portland, where theft is an important part of the local bike economy, it has to be factored into the business model, which is why many bike share companies use non-standard parts on their bikes. Labor costs also vary by a huge amount – very high in Seattle, a pittance here in NC.

      But the biggest question we have out here in NC about LimeBike (and any bike share company of any type) is, “where is the main profit for you in all this?”

      We speculate that the bike share companies are making money collecting movement data of customers, via your credit cards – where you shop, where and when you eat out, were you go, what kind of products you buy, using the same card you used to pay for your bike trip – much like the Safeway or Freddys discount card you use, but now linked to your other purchases. That kind of data is very valuable to other retailers. In China, there is no equivalent to Transunion or Equifax, so this kind of data is used as a substitute for establishing consumer credit reporting.

      The other line of thought we have here in corporate NC is that each of these numerous bike share companies are rapidly expanding, usually using Silicon Valley startup capital, specifically in order to be “bought out” at a huge profit by other unrelated corporate conglomerates, such as Nike has already done in Portland.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu July 28, 2017 at 11:26 pm

        $35/ bike for Limebike? I’m skeptical. There is an 8 speed Shimano IGH, a Shimano generator hub, lights, GPS/lock/electronics, etc. These aren’t Walmart bikes.

        Biketown bikes cost $1500 each per media reports. They are better bikes than Limebike and Spinbike bikes, but not 50X better.

        Here are a couple articles we might want to read.

        https://qz.com/919739/chinese-bike-sharing-startups-like-ofo-and-mobike-are-being-taken-for-a-ride-by-thieves-vandals-and-cheapskates/ (this article says the Mobike dockless bikes cost $437 without shipping)

        http://fortune.com/2017/03/21/chinese-bike-sharing/ (Ofo claims their bikes cost $36 because they are simpler, but a) how much simpler are they, and b) companies lie and Chinese companies really lie (for various reasons).

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        • 9watts July 28, 2017 at 11:30 pm

          I thought we’d learned they were North of $3,000 ea. Or perhaps that was the total cost of the system divided by the number of bikes at the time?

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        • John Liu
          John Liu July 29, 2017 at 9:14 am

          Did some more reading. It looks like the claimed $36/ bike is for the original Ofo bikes deployed in China. These are not the same as the dockless bikes used by Spinbikes in Seattle. The original Ofo bikes are very basic bikes: no generator hub, no lights, no GPS, no electronic locks, looks like a single speed rear hub. See pics here http://www.sinosplice.com/life/archives/2017/02/22/ofo-rental-bikes-are-getting-owned

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        • David Hampsten July 31, 2017 at 5:49 am

          Here’s an article (pdf) on bike import statistics: http://www.bicycleretailer.com/sites/default/files/downloads/resource/2014stats.pdf

          99% of bikes sold in the US are imported. In 2014 bikes “straight off the boat” cost to make, on average, $34 for a kids bike, $122 for a 26″ bike, and $253 for a 700c, with prices expected to drop further from the current bicycle glut. This includes all manufacturing costs of the originating country, including R&D, executive pay, benefits, materials, parts, safety, etc, but before US retail mark-ups. This average includes all Walmart, Huffy, Magna, Trek, Giant, Specialized, and all other major brands.

          In 2013, the US imported just under 16 million bicycles and exported 73,591 bicycles, presumably all high-end.

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        • David Hampsten July 31, 2017 at 6:37 am

          I’ve met several bike manufacturers over the years. My brother Stephen in Seattle makes custom bikes entirely in the USA for mostly US customers. He pays his part-time employees good wages and gives them good benefits. His bikes are priced accordingly, usually far more than most of us are willing to pay. I know a manufacturer in Oregon who both makes bikes in Oregon, but also imports some bikes from overseas. The customer base is both in the USA and overseas, so they are also exporters. He and his partners work to keep costs down, but they still charge more than Trek would.

          And then I know a “manufacturer” here in NC who has no ethics whatsoever (he has several pending paternity suits, among other issues.) He’s an engineer by education and trade who designed a folding bike, sent the plans to a company in South Korea who then had 500 of the bikes made at various small factories in China, then had the bikes assembled with generic Chinese parts at other specialized small plants, then boxed and crated the bikes to the fellow in NC (by ship & truck), who shoved them into a warehouse, opening and assembling bikes as he sells them. His total cost was about $25/bike, which included the parts, labor, materials, and shipping. He sells them at $300-$500/bike, plus shipping and sales tax.

          Given that Spin and LimeBike are beholden to a bunch of institutional investors who expect a handsome return, I’m going to guess that they intend to keep bike unit manufacturing costs to a minimum, and maximize their marketing costs (i.e., their salaries).

          And yeah, whoever sold Portland those $3,000 bikes, somebody made a killing…

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      • John Liu
        John Liu July 29, 2017 at 9:31 am

        These systems are being funded through venture capital, which means hundreds of millions of dollars of investor capital thrown at many attempts to become “the next Uber”, most of which will never make money and will fail. Leaving, I suspect, thousands of bikes and components abandoned, in the trash, and/or in bike chop shop piles. Possibly taking down Biketown and other bike sharing systems with them.

        Dockless bike sharing is certainly worth trying, so let Seattle test it out. Biketown is not far from a dockless system, it is flexible enough to incorporate the good features of a completely dockless system when we figure out what they are.

        In the meantime, Portland should not permit just any company to scatter unregulated dockless bikes all over the city until we see how their efforts in Seattle and other cities play out.

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    • BB July 31, 2017 at 9:58 am

      To be fair, while it is a minor issue there is nothing like Portland’s hobo chop shops in Seattle. Bike theft is far less rampant.

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      • Zimmerman August 2, 2017 at 11:48 am

        You are so wrong about that. There are just as many and they’re just as prolific and brazen up here in Seattle.

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        • BB August 3, 2017 at 11:29 am

          Name the location of a single open air bike chop shop in seattle. Name the corridors that have been taken over by bike thieves.

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  • Big Knobbies July 28, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    They’d better buy their bikes somewhere else so the don’t have to pay that $15 tax on each one!

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  • Phil Richman July 28, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    Why doesn’t BikeTown just change the “SuperHub” zones name to “Dockless” zones. They are the same thing. It might ward off their competition for a few more months. Funny, a couple of years ago many questioned the viability of bike share since private capital didn’t seem interested, now there is too much competition. I’m all for more bikes on our streets, but we NEED protected bikeways, especially on arterials!

    Taking a look at my BikeTown usage I’d have shelled out $448 bucks at $1/trip thus far to Spin or just walked a whole lot more.

    Spinlister coexists just fine with BikeTown so the city should not be afraid of Spin entering the market either.

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  • WylyQuimby July 28, 2017 at 5:38 pm
    • Asher July 29, 2017 at 7:20 am

      Lol I thought that article was laughably bad.

      1. Spin sucks because it doesn’t provide helmets, and helmets rock.
      2. This product just came out today and it’s not going to improve.
      3. We need to let the city master plan things. (Insinuated)
      4. No mention of a likely alternative to using a bikeshare, i.e. driving.

      The companies don’t claim they’ll be perfect on the first day, I’m not sure why the reviewers there and elsewhere grade them as if they do. Plus Spin has already announced a new and improved bike being rolled out.

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  • soren July 29, 2017 at 9:28 am

    “that old… pass pricing model is going to get crushed by $1 rides.”

    if the city subsidized public bike share the way it subsidized other mass transit systems (:cough: streetcar :cough:) biketown could compete.

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    • 9watts July 29, 2017 at 9:34 am

      Subsidies are a conversation we should have much more often. But given all that I’ve come to understand about bikeshare, and whom it serves, it is not – at least to me – a clear winner in a qualifying for subsidies race. Let’s first have the frank conversation about the objectives of bikeshare, both short term and long term.
      From where I stand we should just find ways to stop funding cars-only infrastructure; come to terms with the twilight of the automobile, and then figure out how to spend the hundreds of millions that are left over.

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      • Kyle Banerjee July 30, 2017 at 7:49 am

        The subsidy issue and the rationale behind it is a good one.

        Regardless of the merits, overtly anti-car logic is accepted by only a tiny segment of the population. Any project based on this rationale is virtually guaranteed failure with a best case scenario of symbolic crumbs.

        Much better to sell these car alternatives as supporting drivers — i.e. freeing up road and parking space for drivers. This also makes it easier to argue that the best use of fees paid by drivers is sometimes for cyclists.

        For example, parking fees could be used to pay for more bike valet services such as the ones near the base of the tram. The drastically increased safety of bikes and greater parking availability for them provides a major incentive for cycling and it provides a visual reminder of how many parking spaces the bikes aren’t taking. Bike share is like that. If people take bike share to get around, it frees the roads and parking up while providing a convenient alternative for short hops.

        Portland’s problem is there are no good car alternatives in unusual conditions. When the temps crack 100 later this week, cycling is not going to be attractive to many people. Public transit will be all messed up because our mass transit is designed in a way so it doesn’t function when conditions are unusual — which is quite often in practice. Few people are willing to ride bikes in conditions that mess up transit. So people will choose to sit in their cars and crank up the AC to arctic blast.

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        • 9watts July 30, 2017 at 8:00 am

          “overtly anti-car logic is accepted by only a tiny segment of the population”

          “When the temps crack 100 later this week, cycling is not going to be attractive to many people.”

          How accepted or attractive it is is but one dimension of this dynamic and evolving problem. The people of Joplin, MO surely found it more attractive to have their town the way it was before the tornado, but they didn’t get to decide that. Nor will this set of issues be entirely up to us as we go forward. Pretending that we will continue to call the shots, get to pick and choose, is not a prudent strategy.

          Preferences vs constraints.

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          • Kyle Banerjee July 30, 2017 at 4:05 pm

            The oil will run out and the climate will change gradually giving people a chance to adjust more organically. The only way everything will change in the span of a few minutes is if a nuclear war gets triggered — in which case no one will care about cycling.

            There is no reasonable alternative for driving for most people nor will there be for a long time. It’s not like a sudden infusion of cash into mass transit would suddenly make it work for most people. Nor is there any chance most people would have much chance of pulling off their commute on a bike in the weather we’re going to get later this week even if every single car was taken from the road. They’d have enough trouble on carless paths in perfect weather. And the will isn’t there.

            However, the problem is self correcting. As resources get depleted they become harder to get and more expensive. 12 bucks a gallon gas will make people think very differently….

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            • 9watts July 30, 2017 at 9:41 pm

              “The oil will run out and the climate will change gradually giving people a chance to adjust more organically.”

              That is a droll—and very convenient—fantasy.
              What if doesn’t turn out so neat? Suddenly goes poof? Have you thought about that possibility?

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              • Kyle Banerjee July 31, 2017 at 5:26 am

                No, and neither has anyone else who understands how these things work.

                You won’t be able to find any responsible economists or scientists who support your “poof” theory for having society go along as we are now and suddenly run out of oil and/or face catastrophic environmental change.

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              • 9watts July 31, 2017 at 7:25 am

                A few links for you:

                “FORMAT: All the world currently sees salvation in a sustainable green technology.

                Dennis Meadows: This is a fantasy. Even if we manage to increase the efficiency of energy use dramatically, use of renewable energies much more, and painful sacrifices to limit our consumption, we have virtually no chance to prolong the life of the current system. Oil production will be reduced approximately by half in the next 20 years, even with the exploitation of oil sands or shale oil. It just happens too fast. Apart from that you can earn more than non oil with alternative energy. And wind turbines can be operated, with no planes.The World Bank director (most recently responsible for the global airline industry) has explained to me, the problem of peak oil is not discussed in his institution, it is simply taboo. Whoever will try to anyway, is fired or transferred. After all, Peak Oil destroys the belief in growth. You would have to change everything.”
                full interview:

                In a useful article in the New Yorker about Christiana Figueres, the person in charge of the UN Climate Change Convention, Elizabeth Kolbert says the following:

                “To hold warming to less than two degrees Celsius, global emissions would have to peak more or less immediately, then drop nearly to zero by the second half of the century. Alternatively, they could be allowed to grow for a decade or so longer, at which point they’d have to drop even more precipitately, along the sort of trajectory a person would follow falling off a cliff. In either case, it’s likely that what are known as “negative emissions” would be needed. This means sucking CO2 out of the air and storing it underground—something no one, at this point, knows how to do. The practical obstacles to realizing any of these scenarios has prompted some experts to observe that, for all intents and purposes, the two-degree limit has already been breached.
                “The goal is effectively unachievable” is how David Victor, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and Charles Kennel, a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, put it recently in the journal Nature.”

                West Antarctic Glacier Loss Appears Unstoppable

                And a matrix plotting a variety of perspective on how this will unfold:

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              • Kyle Banerjee July 31, 2017 at 9:56 am

                The sources you cite hardly predict climatic or energy Armageddon even if the impacts are profound and lasting.

                Besides, as the oil tap starts faltering and extracting it becomes more difficult, the alternatives that people are resisting now will seem very desirable — and more alternatives will emerge. Remember a few years ago when we had $5/gallon gas? That actually affected peoples’ behavior. $5 is nothing — it will be much higher than that.

                Keep in mind that a huge sector of the population denies climate change and that goes to the top. Also keep in mind that there is a massive subculture in our society built on burning gasoline. That’s why some people own big trucks, ATVs, RVs, motorcycles, snow machines, and jet skis. The only thing that will change that is sufficiently expensive fuel. The only thing that will get climate change deniers on board will be sufficient destruction of expensive property. Even after the fracking companies themselves admitted they triggered the rash of earthquakes in Oklahoma, there were plenty of deniers.

                Trying to sell an idea on protecting ourselves from something they outright believe doesn’t exist and that will clearly take decades to play out is dеlusional. Just look at how budgets are managed around the world — no one does anything until they absolutely have to. Doesn’t matter if that’s smart or not, that’s what people do.

                If you want people to not drive, the idea needs to be based on a premise people are willing to accept. Telling a car culture they should give up their cars overnight because they’re doomed otherwise is as realistic as the religious yahoos who think we’ll convert when they tell us we’re destined to hеll if we don’t change our ways.

                In your neck of the woods, how would a quick change even occur? Do you think people are even capable of riding the hills in south or west Salem or from bedroom communities? That the small rural towns can even support viable public transit? That the bedroom communities could function? That the layout of services even supports active and public transit outside a limited space? That kind of thing takes awhile to change.

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              • 9watts July 31, 2017 at 11:37 am

                “That kind of thing takes awhile to change.”

                You’re still focused on preferences, on what people will agree to, choose. I am focused on the kind of change we might expect that arise in the context of constraints, of changes we are not in control of, have no sway over.


                How long change in preferences takes and how long a change that comes out of a different corner—is not chosen—takes are two very different things. I look forward to having a conversation with you here at some point when we can talk about this.

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              • 9watts July 31, 2017 at 11:41 am

                …formatting glitch.

                what I was trying to say was that the fact that people are in denial over the realities of climate change has no effect whatsoever on the probabilities of climate change occurring, and the consequences of that climate change surprising us/them.

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              • Kyle Banerjee July 31, 2017 at 12:01 pm

                The climate change will occur whether or not people deny it. But it also takes a long time (by human perspective) to happen — it’s not like there’s even the remotest possibility of it jumping 5 degrees Celsius in a few years and drowning the coastlines. In a worst case scenario, it still takes decades which provides time to adjust, the need for which becomes increasingly obvious.

                Even if global warming didn’t exist, changes that go way, way beyond transport will eventually be necessary for the simple reason that humans use natural resources way faster than the earth creates them.

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              • 9watts July 31, 2017 at 12:08 pm

                “In a worst case scenario, it still takes decades which provides time to adjust, the need for which becomes increasingly obvious.”

                You keep saying this, but it is irresponsible and wishful nonsense.

                Even if there were only a small chance that your statement is incorrect, the costs to us ignoring that possibility are so high that we cannot afford to avoid planning for that eventuality. And there is plenty of evidence, mounting every day, that the idea that there will always be time to adjust is incredibly dangerous.
                Abrupt climate change, catastrophic climate change, runaway climate change, positive feedbacks. All of these are real possibilities and if you look you’ll find that the probabilities that one of these will come to pass are on the rise.

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        • David Hampsten July 31, 2017 at 4:43 am

          When Portland cracks 100 later this week (106 for both Wednesday & Thursday), anyone from the deep south will still be jealous of your weather – you have dry heat, like in an oven, with lows at night still in the 60s. We had three weeks straight of 90s with 99% humidity, giving heat indexes well over 120 degrees, with lows at night in the high 70s, like in a sauna (alas, all too normal for here).

          My advice, bring with you twice as much water as you think you need, drink twice as often as you normally do, and pretend it’s 40 degrees outside. Works for me…

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          • Kyle Banerjee July 31, 2017 at 10:02 am

            I gotta admit, I found it funny what Portlanders consider weather when I move here. What they call heat isn’t. Same goes for cold, thunderstorms, rain, and snow. The only people who have funnier ideas of what constitutes weather are people from SoCal. They don’t even have weather — I heard they outlawed it many years ago. Though even with dry heat, these temps are real, particularly since many of us don’t have AC.

            There are two things I’ve missed since moving here — hot summer nights and lightning bugs. Hot summer nights are no good for sleeping, but they’re awesome for just sitting outside and enjoying life (especially if accompanied by a light breeze to keep the mosquitoes off you). Watching thousands upon thousands of lightning bugs light up in a field is simply magic. Haven’t seen that in over 20 years 🙁

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            • Adam
              Adam July 31, 2017 at 10:28 am

              Hah, I agree with you about the weather thing. I’m from the midwest and rode year-round, so I know what weather looks like. I moved here to get away from the harsh weather and honestly have very few complaints about Portland weather. I love the winters here.

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            • David Hampsten July 31, 2017 at 6:33 pm

              Too bad I can’t bring the fireflies and thunder storms to the next Sunday Parkways, but I can bring some Pepsi (New Bern NC 1898). See y’all on the 20th.

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          • turnips August 1, 2017 at 9:58 am

            I think you’ve been doing sauna wrong…

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  • Champs July 29, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    In 1994, Yahoo indexed the “world wide web” to make the Internet approachable to novices. A few years later, the Spice Girls stormed the pop music charts. Everyone, from the pundits all the way down, knew—just knew—that these things were not just a flash in the pan.

    Moving to the present, i.e. the Disruption Decade, in transportation there is Tesla struggling to clear a profit, Uber bleeding money, and a scheme to build underground freeways in LA. Here we are at dockless bike startups. I think I’ll reserve some enthusiasm.

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  • cp July 29, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    Pronto didn’t work because it had a punitive charge if someone didn’t turn in the bike after 30 minutes. They thought they were checking one out for the day, but you still had to turn them in every 30 min. People were getting $100 bills due to these fines, and warning everyone else from ever trying it. Also, Seattle’s downtown isn’t safe except for a couple of streets. https://www.yelp.com/biz/pronto-seattle

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    • John Liu
      John Liu July 30, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      I can’t recall seeing a bike lane anywhere in Seattle during two days of walking around downtown, the waterfront, Pioneer Square and Capitol Hill. I saw only a few cyclists.

      I’d be curious to know how much rebalancing Pronto needed. Seattle’s downtown is somewhat hilly, and getting to many of the residential neighborhoods requires climbing hills on roads with no bike lanes. I would suspect that once a sharebike gets ridden from Capitol Hill down to downtown, it isn’t getting ridden back up the hill.

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      • BB July 31, 2017 at 9:57 am

        No bike lanes in seattle huh.. You must have been only hanging out in alleys?

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      • SE Rider July 31, 2017 at 10:25 am

        Are you sure you were actually in the capital hill neighborhood?

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      • Adam
        Adam July 31, 2017 at 10:25 am

        There’s a two-way protected bike lane on 2nd downtown, and one on Broadway in Capitol Hill along the First Hill streetcar line. They are much higher quality than anything Portland has come up with, but I did see far less people riding in them than I do in Portland.

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        • John Liu
          John Liu July 31, 2017 at 2:32 pm

          I didn’t walk on 2nd downtown. I crossed Broadway in Capitol Hill, but maybe not the part that has a bike lane. I’m not saying Seattle has zero bike lanes. It has much less bike infrastructure than Portland (I’m not counting some faded sharrows and a sprinking of “share the road” signs on otherwise car-dominated streets), and far fewer people riding bikes around.

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          • Adam
            Adam July 31, 2017 at 3:30 pm

            Seattle has more cycling infrastructure than Portland if you don’t count Neighborhood Greenways. Which I don’t, since most amount to just directional arrows and mayyybe a diverter that drivers can just easily go around.

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          • SE Rider July 31, 2017 at 5:03 pm

            And how does that compare to downtown Portland? You’re comparing apples and Oranges. Next time you’re in Seattle go check out the Burke-Gilman trail. I’ve lived in both cities, and I do think Portland has the edge in ridership, but you’re suggesting it’s a lot more one-sided in infrastructure than is actually the case.

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      • GlowBoy July 31, 2017 at 11:06 am

        “Seattle’s downtown is somewhat hilly”

        More than somewhat, in the east-west direction. In the south half of downtown, all east-west streets exceed 10% grades, with most in the upper teens. A bike lane on 2nd is wonderful, but I’m not aware of bike lanes going up the hill. Which would be kind of important.

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    • SE Rider July 31, 2017 at 10:22 am

      That’s exactly how most bikeshares in the US have (and currently do) worked, and others aren’t collapsing.
      I think it’s a lot more complicated than that.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu July 31, 2017 at 2:25 pm

        Some bikeshares are actively rebalanced, e.g. Citibikes in NYC. I don’t have a list of bikeshares that do and don’t use active rebalancing.

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        • SE Rider July 31, 2017 at 5:01 pm

          Sorry, I was referring to the < 30 mins per ride. It's supposed to be for short trips, and that keeps it from being taken over for all day rentals (although it's not THAT hard to just find a bike to swap every 30 minutes).

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  • Al July 29, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    I’m all for more bikeshare. While not a regular user, I have a Biketown card and used it several times. My problem with dockless however is that this is where the venture capital is right now. But Portland already has a bike share system and the influx of another could potentially jeopardize both. It’s OK for the VC’s to lose money. They assumed that risk but I don’t want the city to lose out on bikeshare because overzealous expansion was allowed. Failure could potentially lock out future systems for some time.

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    • SE Rider July 31, 2017 at 10:37 am

      Yes, this quote from the above review of the Seattle system doesn’t leave you particularly impressed with these companies credentials or planning:

      “When I interviewed Spin’s president, I was told that the company did not study any bike-use heatmaps or interview citizens about what they wanted in a bike service. Instead, Poon told me he had friends test some bikes in his home city of San Francisco (assumedly in its less-hilly neighborhoods) and the incredibly flat town of Austin, Texas.”

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  • Sam Churchill July 31, 2017 at 6:07 am

    Here’s a station-less bike sharing proposal for Portland:


    This solar-powered bike hub provides ride-share services on Hayden Island. Indiduals
    and businesses provide and maintain their own bikes and set their rates. Spinlister
    provides the bike sharing software, policies and insurance. The non-profit 501(c)3
    venture would be self-sustaining through parking fees.


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    • John Liu
      John Liu July 31, 2017 at 6:16 am

      It shows a solar roof about three parking spaces in size, and says “the solar canopy doubles as emergency power and communications backup for the city and state in the event of a large earthquake”. Hilarious.

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      • Sam Churchill July 31, 2017 at 10:29 am

        If you looked at the cover, you’d see that design has space for 8 bikes in a vertical “mushroom” shape, while the “bus shelter” concept has space for 5-6 bikes. You may not worry about power after the quake. I think a solar charged, 2400 watt/hr battery could come in handy.

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        • John Liu
          John Liu July 31, 2017 at 11:21 pm

          Yeah, except there’s no battery and a solar roof that size might power one or two houses so why the claim of being a backup for the “city and state”. Calls into question the credibility of the whole proposal.

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          • Sam Churchill July 31, 2017 at 11:58 pm

            You said it John. Hilarious. An MIT guy, hired by the city, looked at it tonight and thought it was reasonable. Maybe you know better.

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            • Sam Churchill August 1, 2017 at 12:17 am

              I guess that means that you believe that no one should be allowed to use spinlister in Portland. I disagree.

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            • John Liu
              John Liu August 1, 2017 at 9:48 pm

              Do the calculations. Figure out the kW from that solar roof.

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          • Sam Churchill August 1, 2017 at 7:25 am

            Statements should reflect reality, okay? Should we banish Spinlister from Portland?

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  • GlowBoy July 31, 2017 at 11:16 am

    Is it possible Spin externalizes the theft risk to support their business model? From their website:

    “Park a Spin anywhere responsible, as if it were your own bike.”

    If it were parking my own bike anywhere in Seattle, I’d be using a U-lock, not one of those rear-wheel Eurolocks. And even then I’d be nervous in a lot of places. In other words, there is nowhere “responsible” in Seattle to park a bike without a U-lock. If the bike gets pinched because it isn’t U-locked to a secure rack, am I on the hook for it because I didn’t park it “responsibly?”

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    • John Liu
      John Liu August 1, 2017 at 9:50 pm

      I think they are asking you to not park the bike in the middle of a crosswalk, etc.

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  • Alex Linsker March 27, 2018 at 1:29 pm

    I love the bikesharing in Seattle. I had my favorite-ever day in Seattle riding the Ofo bikes around.
    – It’s $1 per hour on Ofo bikes in Seattle, compared to $6 per hour for the BikeTown bikes (I do the $12/month BikeTown option but sometimes like to take longer trips or go outside the limited zones).
    – Bikesharing is everywhere in Seattle, way more visible than the BikeTown bikes.
    – The info on how to use them is way more clear than BikeTown – all the info you need is on each Ofo bike.
    – There were three kinds of bikes I saw, one color for each.
    – The Ofo bikes are lighter than the BikeTown bikes.
    – Unlocking the bikes in Seattle is easier than BikeTown bikes for anyone with a smartphone, and BikeTown usage is heavily skewed towards smartphones anyway.
    – You leave bikeshare bikes in Seattle anywhere other than a bike rack. Seattle has worse hills than Portland, but on Sunday and Monday there were bikes everywhere I went in Seattle, more evenly distributed than Portland.
    – Seattle’s bikes feel more like sharing and less corporate than Portland.

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