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Owning ‘nothing’ on Capitol Hill a little harder in 2020 with bike and car share pullbacks

(Image: CHS)

For Capitol Hill’s transportation share options, the end of 2019 feels a little like when you look at your app and see no available rides on your map. Those green and yellow bikes are following “floating” car share off the Hill.

This week, Lime announced it was pulling its rental bikes off Seattle streets for the winter while it negotiates a deal under the city’s new rules for scooter shares.

And Share Now, which was formed from a merger with car2go, announced before the holidays that it was closing its car-sharing services not just in Seattle, but in all of North America at the end of February.

“We want to say thank you to our customers, the Seattle Department of Transportation, the Mayor and city council, who have supported us since we launched in the market in 2012,” the company wrote in an email to supporters. “We are saddened by this decision and deeply apologize for the inconvenience this will cause you when service ends.”

Share Now, a joint venture between Daimler and BMW, cited two reasons for the decision. One being “rising infrastructure complexities” and operation costs in North America and the other being the general volatile nature of the transportation market.

“Ultimately, we are not in a position to commit to the level of investment necessary to make the North American market successful,” the company wrote.

Car2go was the first such car-sharing service to debut in Seattle when it came to the Pacific Northwest in 2012 and survived longer than other companies that shuttered over the past few months.

ReachNow announced the closure of its ride-hailing services in Seattle back in July. The company’s chances in Seattle appeared promising in 2016 after a splashy launch party on Capitol Hill that marked its entrance into the innovative world of transportation in the digital age. But just three years later, those chances were dashed.

Lime also shut down its car-rental option in September. Meanwhile, companies like Uber and Lyft continue to grow in Seattle, giving about 24 million rides in Seattle last year, according to The Seattle Times. The Times reported in September that the city expects the number to continue to rise in the coming years and predicts 28 million rides this year.

Come March, Seattle will have no free-floating car-share services.

The change leaves companies like Zipcar and Getaround to pick up what remains of the market. But unlike car2go, which allowed drivers to rent and drop off cars more conveniently, Zipcar requires users to pick up and leave vehicles in specific areas.

Share Now notes that it may be harder to get vehicles as February 29, 2020, the last day of operations, approaches. The company encourages customers to use any remaining credits as soon as they are able to do so.

As for shared transportation on just two wheels, the city released its bike share report for July through September of this year, which showed that there were almost 300,000 unique users of Lime and Jump bikes over the three months. Use of the bikes grew as the weather improved, topping out at 126,000 individuals in August.

July saw over 287,000 trips and the more than 750,000 trips for the entire quarter broke the record for Seattle bike share.

“If bike share were a King County Metro bus route, these Q3 trip totals would place it in the top ten King County bus lines for ridership during that period,” the report reads. There were over 1.6 million trips through the first nine months of 2019.

SDOT’s bike parking map

The total number of bikes fluctuated between 6,800 and 7,300 throughout the quarter, remaining markedly smaller than the 10,000 bikes lining Seattle’s streets during the same period in 2018, according to the report. Lime and Jump continued to be the only companies operating in Seattle, while Lyft has not launched in the city despite being permitted.

The Seattle Department of Transportation had built 1,250 new bike parking spaces around Seattle by the end of November. SDOT’s goal is 1,500 spots by the end of the year. Little of this bike parking has come to Capitol Hill, instead there has been more in the U-District, Downtown, and south Seattle areas.

The report states that only 0.1% of SDOT-audited bikes during the third quarter violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and a little over 5% of bikes were parked in ways which created access barriers.

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, longterm 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.

There are also plans for new protected bike lanes on E Union as part of the plans for shifting traffic away from the Madison Bus Rapid Transit core. That project is now planned for a mid-2020 start of construction.

The city’s positive take on the report comes three years after Mayor Ed Murray dealt the final death blow the city-owned Pronto bike share system.

The continued survival of Seattle’s bike share market also comes in the final months of Council member Mike O’Brien’s tenure on the City Council, one that was marked by support for the new bike infrastructure.

When CHS tried to reach the outgoing council member from Fremont, a council spokesperson responded simply, “O’Brien is long gone.”

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11 thoughts on “Owning ‘nothing’ on Capitol Hill a little harder in 2020 with bike and car share pullbacks

  1. the loss of the smartcar seems to have been the downfall of car2go. they were visually distinctive, cheap, and easy to squeeze into a parking spot anywhere at all. once they switched to the fancy mercs, i lost interest and it seems everyone else did, too.

    it’s unfortunate that all this has happened. floating carshare is cheaper than calling a lyft, and handy in a pinch for odd trips the bus system doesn’t handle well.

    • That’s not the case, Car2go was usually more expensive than a Lyft or Uber. Plus you had to find parking at your destination.

      This is, really, the issue: why would I walk 2-4 blocks to pay more when I could just get an Uber to come to my door for less…there’s every incentive not to use the car share.

      That said, I liked having them around…though in fairness when Reach Now announced their closure in July I knew it was only a matter of time….

      • I think it depends on the trips you are taking. Point A to point B; sure, Uber/Lyft are likely your best options. But if you need to make some stops along the way, like running a few errands before getting to your final destination, Car2Go was great.

        While I rarely used Car2Go I did like having them around for those times, like the example above, when I needed them. Shame to lose the option but I realize they can’t make a business work with customers like me.

      • That’s not the case, Car2go was usually more expensive than a Lyft or Uber.

        It’s hard to compete with a taxi company that openly avoids regulations for taxis, pays its employees contractors terribly and is willing and able to hemorrhage billions, at one point over a billion per month.

    • yeah same – once they were no longer small AND luxury cars (which I feel uncomfortable using) i stopped using them and just bused/got a ride/biked instead.

      I even emailed them with this! But i guess they knew something I didn’t.

      • How are they more expensive than Uber and Lyft?? I use all of these services, and Uber/Lyft cost at least 50% more, and usually double the price. I would rather walk a couple of blocks for my car than stand around for ten minutes waiting for Uber to show up and usually stopping half a block away on the wrong side of the street; and good luck getting them to come closer when you call trying to yell into your phone over the roar of traffic and half the time their English is marginal at best.

        You’re right that parking can be a hassle, and that is the city’s fault for not managing this important resource more effectively.

        I do agree about the cars … personally the Fiats were my favorite –

  2. I’ve lived on The Hill for decades now without a car. Using only two feet, Metro, a taxi cab and the occasional car rental, life has been just fine-and-dandy. Never used any of those departing/departed services.

    The horror.

    • “…the occasional car rental…”

      Yeah, while you may not have used Car2Go you were using a similar service with a car rental; you were just renting by the day vs. the hour/mile.

      Also, good to hear that you’ve been able to figure out transportation solutions that work for you but not everyone’s you. Having more options isn’t a horrible thing.

  3. Time to tax Lyft and Uber. They are clearly implementing predatory pricing ( designed to kill traditional taxis, bike share, transit, and all other competitors. The end result will be one where people have fewer options to get around, and then they can jack up the rates and start making a profit while workers and every day people pay the price.

  4. Sorry to hear that ReachNow is leaving, I definitely preferred them to Uber and Lyft. Car share would be more viable in Seattle if the city did a better job of managing our parking resources, i.e. charging market-based rates to ensure that you can find a spot when you need one.

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