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Why you can’t sue Seattle bikeshare companies

(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

There are three options when it comes to Seattle bikeshares — bright orange, green, or yellow. But it turns out, two of those options come with a catch.

RELATED: Seattle sets bikeshare records while city considers next steps

That catch is the terms-of-use agreement that customers must approve in order to use LimeBike and ofo around Seattle.

“To be fair, nobody reads these things, but it’s in all caps, ‘By agreeing to arbitrate, each party is giving up its right to go to court and having any dispute heard by a judge and jury,’” KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney said, pointing to a recent report in The Seattle Times.

That report notes that LimeBike and ofo both require customers to agree to arbitration should any issues arise. In other words, if something goes wrong while riding their bikes, you can’t sue them. The third Seattle bikeshare, SPIN, does not have this requirement.

“To be fair to these bike companies, lots of other companies do this too,” Tom said. “Amazon — if you use Amazon you have to go to private arbitration. They say that 15-20 of the largest banks that issue credit cards, you have to go to arbitration. Seven of the eight largest cell phone service providers require private arbitration … it’s not like this is so outside the mainstream, but maybe not something that most riders are aware of.”

The Times discovered the contractual language while reviewing the bikeshares after one year in operation.

RELATED: Seattle bikeshares 101

It isn’t just legal language that sets them apart, Tom points out. For example, LimeBike has a weight limit of 300 pounds, while ofo has a limit of 220 pounds.

“Two hundred and twenty pounds is not that big!” Tom said. “You can’t ride an ofo if you are more than 220 pounds?!”

“Legally,” Curley quickly noted, as legal hurdles to riding the bikes haven’t stopped people from using them.

Seattle bikeshare numbers continue to grow

Whether riders know of the fine print or not, the bikes have proven both popular and annoying. Seattleites have taken more than 1 million trips on LimeBike alone, in the year they’ve been in town.

Together, the three Seattle bikeshare companies have put nearly 10,000 bikes on the roads and sidewalks. Where those thousands of bikes are parked is where the annoyance issue comes in.

Still, Seattle’s stationless bikeshare program is beating Portland’s station-based system — Biketown. The Seattle Department of Transportation recently pointed out that it only took one month in operation for Seattle’s bikeshare companies to beat out Portland’s system. In August 2017, Seattle had 76,131 rides; Portland had 47,104.

The lowest number of rides Seattle recorded over the last year was in December — 57,874 rides (Portland had 11,028). It took Portland until May to top Seattle’s worst month when that city recorded 79,367 rides. Seattle, however, made 208,849 bikeshare trips in May.

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