Ferry system to bike-share users: Don't walk off without your bike

SEATTLE — Bicycling onto a ferry is a good way to cross Puget Sound, but the ferry system and the Coast Guard say there's a problem with people riding bikes on and not riding them off.

Washington State Ferries says it happens about once a month.

Incredibly, most of the bikes are owned by the riders who leave them behind.

But enough have been shared bicycles rented in Seattle that, on Monday, the ferry system made a public plea.

"One of the great things about the bike shares is: You can grab it and leave it on a sidewalk," said Ian Sterling, of Washington State Ferries. "A ferry boat is not a sidewalk. If you bring it on board please take it off."

When a bike is found without a rider, the Coast Guard has to assume that person fell overboard.

During Easter weekend on the Bainbridge Island run, the Coast Guard launched a major search after a bike was found abandoned.

"Due to helicopter use alone, we are talking about a $17,000 price tag for that case, so if you can imagine the 12 cases of the last 18 months, we're talking about tens of thousands of dollars," said Capt. Mike Balding, deputy sector commander for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Last summer, Seattle became the first major city on the continent to launch dockless bike-sharing.

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Bikes are supposed to be left on sidewalks out of the way of pedestrians.

Last fall, after two months of the program, city officials reported most bikes had been parked properly.

A quick search of social media found examples of bikes blocking sidewalks or parked as stunts, such as on top of the Convention Center, on a piling in the water, or atop the Fremont Troll.

The city recently started testing designated parking zones in Ballard.

Now, the bike-share companies Spin, Ofo and LimeBike are facing new pressure from an electric scooter company called Bird, which recently launched in two Bay Area cities.

Bird is pushing its competitors to sign what it calls a "Save our Sidewalks" pledge.

Bird, which rounds up its scooters each night to charge them, calls for the bike-share companies to also do daily pickups, to avoid a repeat of the "out of control deployment in China," where discarded bikes are found on sidewalks and in a few giant piles.

KIRO 7 contacted all three bike share companies.

Only Spin responded, saying they rebalance their fleet daily.

Spokespeople with the Seattle Department of Transportation declined an interview request and did not answer phone calls.

They sent a statement, saying, "SDOT has an ongoing dialogue with the businesses regarding proper placement of their bikes and removal of improperly placed bikes."

City rules require companies to move improperly parked bikes within two hours of being notified on a weekday.

During off hours, the companies have 10 hours to move the bikes.

SDOT will brief the City Council about the bike-share program in May, ahead of a decision about its future that will be made in late spring.

Bellevue is planning to launch a bike-share pilot.

After seeing what happened in Seattle, officials first planned to require that the bikes be moved nightly to places where people would be likely to need them.

Bellevue officials now say they're planning a more flexible policy that requires moving the bikes "regularly."