Seattle bike share pilot speeds ahead, hitting the streets as early as Friday

Spin plans to roll its orange bicycles out on Seattle streets this week. (Spin Photo)

Starting Friday, Seattle commuters will have some new options for getting around the increasingly gridlocked city.

Last week, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) released regulations that pave the way for private bike-sharing companies to launch in Seattle under a six-month pilot. The pilot launches Friday and San Francisco-based Spin is hoping to be here right out of the gates.

As of Thursday, Spin is still awaiting approval from the city to move forward. But if all goes according to plan, Spin will launch in Seattle this week with about 500 orange bicycles.

Spin worked closely with Seattle officials to develop regulations for the pilot program and lay the groundwork for permanent bike-sharing. Making bike-shares work is a priority for Seattle lawmakers, grappling with the transportation woes that come with a big population boom.

Seattle is the fastest-growing city in the country, driven largely by the booming technology industry. The influx of newcomers translates to big traffic headaches and city officials are trying to improve public transit and alternative modes of transportation to get fewer cars on the roads.

“We hope that during the course of the pilot we’ll be in constant communication with SDOT … and we hope that when the pilot goes well, we can then talk about possibly translating this into something firm and put something in regulation to keep bike-sharing in Seattle indefinitely,” said Spin CEO Derrick Ko.

In May, Spin raised an $8 million Series A funding round led by Grishin Robotics to fund the bike-share operation’s expansion to new cities around the U.S.

Unlike the now-defunct public-private Pronto bike-share, Spin bikes are dockless. Rather than picking up and dropping off a bicycle at a dedicated station, Spin riders can use a smartphone app to unlock a bike anywhere around the city and drop it off at any location where a bike can legally be parked. Think Car2Go for cyclists.

Spin isn’t the only company looking at Seattle’s health-conscious, anti-car culture and seeing opportunity. Several other bike-share operations are considering expanding to Seattle and at least one — other than Spin — plans to launch this month.

LimeBike, a San Mateo, Calif. company, told GeekWire we can expect to see its bright green bicycles on Seattle streets by mid-July.

LimeBikes roll through Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park. (LimeBike Photo)

Like Spin, LimeBike is a dockless service that allows riders to pick up and drop off bicycles anywhere. Both companies say this is one area where they can succeed where Pronto failed. Relying on fixed docking stations adds friction to the process because of Seattle’s hilly landscape and unpredictable weather, they say.

“LimeBike was built for Seattle,’ and is set to offer bikes that are specifically designed for the city’s hilly terrain and weather, including multi-gears and sealed brakes as well as smart features like GPS, self-locking mechanisms, anti-theft alarms and dockless parking,” LimeBike CEO and co-founder Toby Sun said in a statement.

Both LimeBike and Spin cost $1 for 30 minutes of ride time. They likely won’t be the only private bike-shares to hit Seattle streets; it’s a growing industry and several big players in China are eyeing U.S. expansion.