Dallas and Seattle Ride the Dockless Bike-Share Rollercoaster

The two U.S. cities with the largest dockless bike-share fleets are now on different paths.

Seattle plans to double the permitted size of dockless bike-share fleets in the city. Photo: Stephen Fesler/The Urbanist
Seattle plans to double the permitted size of dockless bike-share fleets in the city. Photo: Stephen Fesler/The Urbanist

The two U.S. cities with the largest dockless bike-share fleets — Dallas and Seattle — are now on different paths.

Bike-share companies are pulling bikes out of Dallas and eyeing a transition to electric scooters, while Seattle finalizes legislation that would double the potential size of dockless bike-share fleets in the city.

In Dallas, the Chinese bike-share start-up ofo is leaving, reports Robert Wilonsky at the Dallas Morning News. The company at one point had a fleet of 5,000 bicycles in the city.

Along with Spin, which ran a smaller fleet of 700 bikes, ofo is winding down its bike operations in Dallas. Both companies may maintain a presence with electric scooter fleets instead. An ofo manager cited the city’s new fees on bike-share operators as a factor in its decision, but the company is retreating all over North America, as well as in Europe, India, and Australia.

To help cover costs the city incurs to keep the bike-share fleets orderly, Dallas is charging $18 per bike annually plus a nominal registration fee for each company. Three other bike-share companies — Mobike, Spin, and VBikes — did not object to the fees and appear to be staying on.

Meanwhile, Seattle is one of the few American cities where ofo will continue to operate. After a year-long pilot phase, transportation officials are preparing to double the size of dockless bike-share fleets permitted citywide to 20,000 bicycles, divided between four companies.

In addition to ofo, Lime and Spin are operating in Seattle, and JUMP is expected to join in the near future.

As part of the expansion, Seattle will implement fees to cover the cost to the city of adding bike parking zones and managing the private operators, reports Stephen Fesler at The Urbanist. Each company will pay $250,000 for an annual permit, which works out to $50 per bike.

While Seattle’s bike-share fleet is poised to grow, performance indicators have not been encouraging. Newly released data shows that with 10,000 bikes across all fleets citywide, ridership averaged about 7,000 daily trips in May and June, or 0.7 trips per bike per day.

One reason for the lackluster usage may be that many bikes are not actually available, depleting the capacity of bike-share and diminishing reliability. Testers with the Seattle Times found that nearly a third of the 206 bikes they spot-checked were unrideable, either because of “obvious damage” to the bike or glitches with the app-based unlocking mechanism.

The ability of the venture capital-backed bike-share companies to keep their fleets in workable condition has always been one of the big unknowns hanging over the business model. In Seattle, it’s still an open question.

  • peakie

    Just-north-of-Seattle Vancouver’s heavy Mobi-bike docking area has been a bust, with many stations filled with unused bike-shares.
    Troubles include a smaller area than needed for the station range, and necessity for returning a bike to a station, often finding that there is no space as few bikes have been moved.
    Meanwhile the price-shock of the rentals puts off users from renewing their “membership”
    As the bike-supporting party may lose the October quadrennial election, their use and city million dollars subsidies are in question.
    Some of this follows the Portland bike-“share” insider fiascos.
    As it is there is a big push on the (flaming lithium batteries) e-bikes in the shops. But many complaints that they are driven on sidewalks and bike zones at too high a speed.

  • vnm

    Is it possible that urban density is destiny? Knowing nothing about the specifics of the history of these efforts, I didn’t find it surprising that bike share worked better in Seattle than Dallas.

  • robert

    Its also very hot in Dallas for a large portion of the year. Who wants to cycle in very high temperatures …

  • Cities in Europe with far worse weather have far higher bike ridership rates. Land use, urban design and infrastructure are responsible for 90%+ of bike ridership.

    Also, Dallas’ weather is hot for 3 months and mostly beautiful for 9.

  • J

    Probably more to do with it being a hot mess of sprawl and almost no bike infrastructure.

  • J

    You nailed it.

  • homerbound

    how is 7000 rides a day lackluster? thats two million rides a year…

  • Random Nobody

    1) There is no city in Europe with a climate hotter than Dallas, Texas. None. And cold climates arguably aren’t as brutal for bicycling as hot climates.

    2) The heat in Dallas isn’t just for 3 months (maybe it was a half-century ago). It’s now for 4-6 months; let’s call it 5 months on average.

    Anyways, my point is that the electric scooter folks may be onto something for the hot cities. You don’t have to pedal. You just stand and sweat and let the little motor do its thing. That may actually be a great alternative to walking versus driving a mile across town in the heat.

  • It’s lackluster when the fleet of available bikes is 10k, which in turn means that each bike is ridden less than once per day.

  • More like the provision of bikeways. I’ve heard a lot more about Seattle’s meager network than of Dallas’.

  • Jake Wegmann

    Daily bike commuter in Austin here. Yes, summer heat is an issue that needs to be dealt with. But it’s not as much of an issue as people assume.

    First of all, it’s perfectly comfortable in the mornings. Depending on length of commute, etc, it might be possible to bike to work in work clothes. Or maybe you bring a change of clothes but don’t need to shower.

    The truly brutal heat is the afternoon, peaking at about 4 or 4:30 pm. But at that point, most workers are headed home, where they can happily shower once they get there.

    The only thing that I’ve found to be truly difficult to deal with as a bike commuter are the occasional honest-to-goodness Texas gully washers we get in this part of the world. The good news is that they’re pretty infrequent and they seldom last very long. But when they do, best to just wait them out.

    Anyway, I totally agree with you that e-scooters are awesome and there’s a ton of potential there. But I also think there is untapped potential for people like me who want to ride plain ‘ol bikes and get exercise. Rolling out a better bike network in Austin is happening steadily, and it’s definitely producing results. Dallas should do it too.

  • Random Nobody

    How far is your bike commute in Austin (in miles)? And is it on shady or non-shady streets? And what time of day do you typically leave work to go home? And I assume you were born and raised in Texas or the south? And what is your general age range?

  • Jake Wegmann

    5.5 miles each way. Mix of shady and non-shady, but I avoid 4-lane arterials like the plague, for safety reasons. (I’m a big believer in the law of averages–if I’m going to do something every single day, I want it to be safe.) Nope, was born and raised in Western Canada, where the July daily high temp is about the same as the July daily LOW temp in Austin. Extreme cold or hot weather are things that a person can used to, I believe–if you do it every day it just no longer seems like a big deal. 42 years old–your basic suburban dad.

  • Random Nobody

    And you bike home for half an hour in the 103-degree heat in direct sunlight, where the surface temperate of the roads are 140 degrees? The American Red Cross advises against that kind of physical exertion in that temperature. It’s too high a risk of heat sickness or heat stroke.

  • Jake Wegmann

    Maybe I’m overly complacent, but it really doesn’t feel like that big of a deal. I’ve never once felt woozy or light-headed after the afternoon commute. I don’t go fast or ride particularly hard. I’m no runner, but I’ve always thought that biking in the heat is way easier than running in it–you get a breeze which helps evaporate sweat and cools you down.

    It’s also worth pointing out that 103 degrees+ is something that only happens a few days per year in Austin. The average is more like 97 or 98 in the absolute depths of summer.

    I fully recognize that people’s bodies are different–different people probably have different physiological reactions to heat. I still think there are plenty of people who have categorically ruled out bike commuting who might find it to be OK if they tried it.

  • Random Nobody

    Actually, the breeze doesn’t even help when the temperature is over 97. It’s called a “hot wind” and it has to do with the skin temperature versus the air temperature.

    Maybe your commute home is entirely downhill?

    Or maybe you typically do it at 7:30 or 8:00 pm when things have cooled off a little?

    Regardless, what you’re describing is unexpected, imrpessive, and probably slightly dangerous. I live in Houston and I don’t know anybody bicycling for 30 minutes on summer afternoons. Except for young people who have grown up in the heat.

  • Jake Wegmann

    I generally do it between 5 and 5:30. It’s slightly uphill on my way home. (Although there is usually a southerly breeze while I do it, so the wind and topography might wash out.)

    Austin is a little hotter but considerably less humid than Houston–it might be a lot tougher in Houston because the sweat doesn’t evaporate from your body so you don’t cool off as much.

    Anyway, to each their own! I agree with you 100% that e-vehicles of all shapes and sizes should be everywhere and easy for people to access.

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