As more Pacific Northwest cities embrace scooter-sharing, Seattle keeps foot on the brake

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Lime demos its electric scooter in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

Seattle was the first city in the nation to embrace dockless bike-share — but it may be one of the last to allow free-floating, rentable electric scooters on its streets.

Pacific Northwest cities, like Portland, Spokane, and Tacoma, have been piloting scooter-share, a nascent, heavily-funded industry that has taken off over the past year and is all the rage at SXSW this week. But Seattle officials sent stern warnings last year to scooter companies such Lime and Bird before they got any wise ideas about launching without permission.

Jonathan Hopkins, Lime’s director of strategic development for the Pacific Northwest, indicated Wednesday that Seattle officials haven’t changed their minds.

“A number of other regional cities have reached out to us with interest in launching scooters for the first time,” Hopkins told GeekWire. “Seattle is not one of the cities we have heard such interest from.”

Update March 14: Seattle Communications Director Mark Prentice told GeekWire the city sent a letter to several e-scooter companies in December asking for safety data and other information. The letter also asked scooter companies to release the city of liability for any claim, lawsuit, or other dispute related to their services. It reiterates that scooter-share is still not permitted in Seattle at this time but says, “we are aware of the positive benefits this mobility option has brought to other cities.”

Early adopters: In Tacoma, Seattle’s neighbor to the south, Bird and Lime were permitted to launch scooter-share pilots last fall. Since then, Lime has recorded 100,000 scooter trips, according to data released by the company Wednesday. “There is great value in bringing more mobility options to our city,” Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said in a statement. After a successful four-month pilot, Portland will allow scooters to return in the spring.

Seattle’s reluctance: Seattle’s municipal code doesn’t currently allow scooters to ride on sidewalks or in bike lanes. That would likely need to be changed before these companies could legally operate in the city. Seattle officials spent more than a year studying dockless bike-share before crafting permanent regulations for those services, which include a hefty $250,000 annual fee. At the time, city officials said they were focused on bike-share and weren’t laying the groundwork for scooters, but documents associated with the legislation left open to the possibility of piloting “additional mobility devices.” Scooter companies are chomping at the bit to enter the Seattle market.

Big picture: Cities learned hard lessons from the first wave of new mobility startups, Uber and Lyft, which often launched in new markets without getting permission first. Now the next generation of transportation startups is forced to work more cooperatively with cities.

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