After a successful pilot study downtown, Lime bikes and scooters soon will return to the streets of Spokane.
The distinctive green pedal-assist bikes and electric scooters will be available throughout much of the city starting Monday, May 13, says Jonathan Hopkins, director of strategic development in the northwest region for San Francisco-based Lime, which is incorporated at Neutron Holdings Inc.
In late April, the City Council approved a two-year contract with the app-based company.
“We’ll start off with 400 scooters and 100 bikes,” Hopkins says. “Because there’s the opportunity to have more vehicles, that means that we can serve a broader area.”
Availability in the city will depend on user density, he says; the more people in a neighborhood who use Lime bikes and scooters, the higher the chances of finding an available vehicle. Hopkins says he expects the number of scooters and bikes to increase fairly quickly, due to how popular they were during the pilot study Lime conducted here from early September to mid-November, when the company placed 300 bikes and scooters in town and recorded 35,000 rides.
Lime’s office here will have 20 employees, Hopkins says, in addition to more than 100 “juicers,” which are independent contractors who pick up vehicles, charge their batteries, and return them to the streets. The company pays juicers between $4 and $20 per vehicle, depending on how quickly the scooter or bike needs to be charged or how difficult it might be to reach the vehicle.
Hopkins says more than $80,000 was injected into Spokane’s economy through paying more than 300 juicers during the pilot period.
“All of that money goes into the local economy,” Hopkins says. “When you fill your car up with gas, you’re basically paying a dollar or two into the local economy, and everything else goes elsewhere. For this, each charge is 25 cents in electricity paid to Avista, and all the other money goes into the pockets of someone who lives in the Spokane community.”
Riders will have access to scooters and bikes year-round, Hopkins says.
“The size of the fleet will be seasonal, but their presence won’t necessarily be,” he says. “Our approach has generally been to shut them down when there’s a snowstorm, but to have a winter fleet there that is somewhat smaller. I don’t expect our fleet to go to zero in the winter, unless there’s three weeks of snow, which we know can happen in Spokane.”
Hopkins says unlocking a scooter or bike will cost $1, the same as during the pilot period, and riders will be charged 20 cents per minute of use, a 5-cent increase from the pilot period. Hopkins says a 50% discount is available to anyone in a low-income program through the company’s Lime Access program.
Part of what made the company decide to return to Spokane was the willingness of the city government and local organizations, such as Visit Spokane and the Downtown Spokane Partnership, to partner with Lime, Hopkins says.
Lime will be coordinating with Visit Spokane, for example, to offer helmets to Lime riders.
In late March, the Spokane City Council passed a new law exempting companies that rent out bikes and scooters through apps from having to provide helmets to riders and stating that riders must use the street, rather than sidewalks. The law also includes a stipulation that Lime automatically set scooter speed limits to 7 mph when a user rides through Riverfront Park.
Mark Richard, president and CEO of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, says that organization has met with Lime representatives several times since the end of the pilot study and is working with local property and business owners to find suitable staging areas for Lime vehicles.
Hopkins says the proximity of Gonzaga University, as well as the Spokane campuses of Washington State University and Eastern Washington University, also made Spokane an appealing market for the company.
Richard says the response from students who used Lime vehicles during the pilot was overwhelmingly positive.
“What we have found is that this has really shrunk the distance between downtown and the University District,” Richard says. “We heard a lot of good comments from Gonzaga and WSU and Eastern students who were using the scooters essentially to close that gap and to travel from campus to the downtown area.”
The return of Lime has prompted some to question the safety of those who ride bikes and scooters, which are not allowed on downtown sidewalks, in a city that has few marked bike lanes.
“We’ve been trying to encourage the (City) Council and the administration to expand the bike lanes,” Richard says. “We think it’s a really wise idea to separate them from the sidewalk. What we’re hearing from the city is that’s kind of in their thought process. I think some of the money that they’re going to generate from the contract they’re looking at reinvesting in infrastructure, and one of those will be expanding and improving the visibility of the bike lanes.”
Hopkins says some tech companies, such as Google, have opted to keep a fleet on their campus. Many hotels also choose to have a small fleet, he says.
“Hotels can partner with us and guarantee a fleet at their hotel,” Hopkins says. “If a hotel wants to have 10 scooters out in front of their hotel every morning, they can have that if they’re the ones that charge (the scooters) every night. Some hotels some places might even give people a scooter credit so that people can enjoy and explore the city to the maximum degree possible.”
Richard says the Lime pilot encouraged people to spend more time downtown, which led to an increase of patronage at downtown businesses.
“Retailers and the hospitality industry saw a nice positive increase in business because people were intentionally coming downtown to experience the scooter and experience downtown on the scooter,” Richard says.
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