S2 E7: LimeBike’s Gabriel Scheer: On Seattle’s Overnight Bike-Share Boom and What’s to Come

What You’ll Learn…

  • Gabriel Scheer’s (director of strategic development for LimeBike) account of how bike-sharing came to be, including the genesis of LimeBike.

  • How the Seattle community has reacted to the introduction of the LimeBike system, how this system works + innovations and issues that need to be worked out for the future, and how the LimeBike changes the conversation about transportation in Seattle.

  • Scheer’s hopes for Seattle’s future, especially in the midst of a transition period with its new mayor.

A Seattle resident since he was in his twenties, Gabriel Scheer, the director of strategic development for LimeBike, has a great deal to care about when it comes to getting around his beloved city. He shares with us the story of the birth of LimeBike, a dockless bike-sharing company that launched in Seattle in late July of last year. The true origin of the dockless bike-sharing fad began in China, when heavily-populated cities became too congested for traditional modes of transportation to be the only options. Scheer describes the downsides to this innovation, the main one being that there was no policy in place to fix broken bikes or to keep them in safe areas. Bikes in these Asian cities began to pile up on the streets, destroyed and unsightly. It became less of an actual bike-share system and more of a competition between two major Chinese tech companies who owned parts of the bike-shares, leading to more problems than solutions.

On the other side of the world, Seattle was experiencing its own bike-share introduction with the docked system, Pronto! (a company that Scheer was a founding member of). Scheer had first experienced a bike-share system when he was in Montreal and was excited to see how this innovative new approach to transportation would fair on the busy streets of Seattle. Unfortunately, he quickly discovered the negatives to docked bike-sharing, as many of the docks were located out of range of where people most wanted to go and spending more than 30 minutes with the bike un-docked led to ridiculous charges. Even at its peak performance, Pronto! Only had 500 bikes in Seattle and eventually fizzled out, costing the city millions.

By March of 2017, Seattle became the 3rd largest city in the country to not have a bike-sharing system in place. When permits went out in June, two companies emerged to solve this problem: Spin and LimeBike (Ofo received its permit and began functioning later on). When Spin quickly launched their bike-share system, LimeBike stayed behind to educate the public about their company. After they finally launched in July, they already knew that this was going to be a necessary service for many people (thanks to some preliminary research in Lake Tahoe). Seattle has since proven to be a fantastic learning opportunity for LimeBike, as it has allowed them to gain insight on how to handle hills, rain, and clouds in their system. It has helped in the creation of the first 8-speed bike-share bike (vs. the single- or 3-speed bikes that other companies use) and they continue to learn and innovate everyday with no cost to the city (LimeBike is 100% venture-backed).

Despite the positives of LimeBike (it’s cheaper, you have much more freedom, and it is lighter, among other things), there is still some push-back from local residents. Scheer explains that, much in the same way some people find wind turbines unsightly, so too, do certain people find the LimeBikes to be a bit of an eyesore. Scheer goes on to note that bicycling as a transportation system is in the same position now that cars were 100 years ago and there needs to be some give-and-take in this regard. While people will eventually accept the paradigm that bikes are part of the everyday landscape, plans need to be set in place to ensure that bikes are accommodated in a meaningful way. People cannot just pile bikes up wherever they want and new research suggests that rethinking infrastructure and raising awareness of bicycling as a transportation system can actually improve safety for cyclists in the long-run. If we can begin to view bikes in the same way we view cars, it will lead to much more positive results down the road.

Though there are those who disapprove of the LimeBike, there are many who are embracing the new system. Scheer is excited whenever he sees people who he does not perceive as typical cyclists on a LimeBike, for it shows him that it is a legitimate transportation source that people find useful. There are still some bugs to sort out (people forgetting to lock the bikes, people locking the bikes in their garages, etc) but overall, the 3,000 bikes have made a significant difference to many people and it appears that LimeBike is here to stay.

One of the most important impacts that LimeBike has made is onto the discussion of transportation in Seattle. As the city grows and expands, Scheer notes the realization that Seattle cannot continue on the way it has been, for there is simply not enough land to accommodate the amount of people who arrive in and out everyday. Seattle has always been a town of innovation and with new companies and new people arriving all of the time, we need to remain open to integrating these new ideas with the values that make Seattle the place it has always been. If more cars and new modes of transportation are going to continue to emerge in Seattle, we need to rethink how to use the land we already have to fit it all and this may require an altering of expectations. Scheer notes that he already sees an awareness of this problem among the citizens of Seattle and hopes that as Jenny Durkan takes office as mayor, our policy-makers will begin this process, kick-starting a major paradigm shift that will eventually lead to a Seattle that is more bike-friendly, more integrated, and more successful than it already is. 

About the Interviewee

Gabriel Scheer is the director of strategic development for LimeBike. If you’d like to learn more about LimeBike, you can visit www.limebike.com. You can also follow LimeBike on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and AngelList. To learn more about Scheer, visit www.gabrielscheer.com. You can also follow Scheer on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and connect with him on LinkedIn.





G&O Family Cyclery

Seattle and the Demons of Ambition: From Boom to Bust in the Number One City of the Future by Fred Moody