Seattle has been inundated by thousands of neon bicycles since Spin and LimeBike launched in late July — and it’s just the beginning. Two more companies have filed for permits to operate in Seattle, one of which is rolling out its fleet of stationless, shareable bikes this week.
In interviews with GeekWire, executives with Ofo and VBikes say they think there’s room for two more bike sharing companies on Seattle streets. Tomorrow, Ofo is will beginning a gradual rollout of the 1,000 bicycles that Seattle regulations currently permit each company to operate. VBikes is also planning a Seattle launch, though it has not yet set a date.
The per-company bike limit goes from 1,000 to 2,000 in September and expands again in October. Spin says its ultimate goal is to have 10,000 bikes across Seattle, and that’s just one company.
We caught up with execs from Ofo and VBikes to find out why they think Seattle has room for two more bike-sharing companies.
“With competition, every player is trying to educate the market,” said Grace Lin, Ofo’s U.S. vice president. “It’s quicker to get people used to this new industry. I have to admit that stationless bike-share is still a very new thing, especially in North America, so with all the players working together, it is easier to make users understand this new trend quicker. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Ofo is no stranger to competition. The company is based in Beijing, China, a market with more than 20 bike-sharing companies in the race for industry dominance. Ofo is considerably larger than Spin or LimeBike, both of which are headquartered in San Francisco. Ofo has a fleet of 8 million bicycles in more than 170 cities worldwide. Seattle is Ofo’s first expansion into the U.S., and the company recently raised a $700 million investment round.
“We are very confident that with Ofo’s experience and with all of our local staff, we believe that we can build something that the users really like,” Lin said.
VBikes is based in Garland, Texas, and operates silver bikes with an orange-yellow trim. Like Ofo, VBikes believes that Seattle’s suddenly crowded bike-sharing space benefits consumers and the industry overall.
“At the end of the day, it’s about getting people on bikes, educating riders, incorporating into bike culture,” said Marimar White-Espin, VBike’s Seattle regional manager. “We are excited about the opportunity to participate in the movement to create a more bikeable future.”
VBikes also believes that Seattle’s rapidly growing population — which is driven by job growth in tech and other industries — will be able to support several bike-sharing services.
“The amount of potential riders in the city is significant,” White-Espin said. “As the Seattle population continues to grow, the demand for alternative transportation and bike-share will as well. We will continue to place our efforts on providing a high-quality service that focuses on the city and its people. How VBikes and other bike-share companies can accommodate and adjust with the growth of the city will determine the appropriate need.”
All four companies are dockless, meaning bikes can be picked up and dropped off anywhere it’s legal to park. That sets them apart from Pronto, the ill-fated public-private bike-sharing service that the city shut down in January. Riders can unlock the bikes using an app. Spin and LimeBike cost $1 for 30 minutes of ride time. Ofo and VBikes charge $1 per hour. You can read our full review of both LimeBike and Spin here.
The existing services and newcomers do not offer helmet rentals despite the fact that it’s illegal to ride a bike without one in King County.
“We really respect local law and we regard safety as the first priority,” Lin said. “We encourage people to use a helmet on our app … but as you know people don’t like to share helmets so it’s not possible for us to attach a helmet to our bikes.”
Ofo is launching a few hundred bright yellow bikes this week and will gradually roll out the full 1,000 that is permitted. VBikes is going through the permitting process with the city but hasn’t set a launch date yet.