Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.

Don’t leave bike shares on ferries. The Coast Guard will think you’ve drowned

These cyclists did not forget (or 'forget') their bikes on the ferry.
KUOW Photo/John Ryan
These cyclists did not forget (or 'forget') their bikes on the ferry.

This may be the most Seattle of problems: people abandoning their bike share rentals on the ferry. 

Ian Sterling, spokesman for the Washington State Ferries, shared this dramatic story from two weeks ago: “Somebody boarded in Seattle with a bike-share bike and then walked off, apparently, on the other side, left the bike behind, and that means, okay, now we’ve got a missing person.” 

Coast Guard dispatched; full on search and rescue. 

"[They] launched a helicopter, and it's my understanding that cost them around $17,000 to conduct that search for somebody who apparently wasn't actually missing," Sterling said. 

This was the Bainbridge ferry, a usually packed commuter route. The search delayed everyone on board by about 20 minutes. 

Seattle is home to three bike share companies: Spin (orange), LimeBike (green) and ofo (canary yellow) launched last summer. In December, there were roughly 9,000 of these brightly colored bikes on city streets. 

Some of these bikes have ended up in unconventional places — on top of the Fremont troll, in a tree, dangling off electric wires. And, about once a month, a ferry. 

To be fair, not all orphaned bikes hail are bike shares. In the last year and a half, 12 bikes were left on a ferry; three were from bike share programs, said Dana Warr, a Coast Guard spokesman. He expects to see this again.

"We suspect with the growth of bike shares and bikes in downtown Seattle, the concern of leaving a bike on a ferry will grow as the summer months come," Warr said. 

Is it an overreaction to launch a helicopter because of an unloved rental bike?

"We have had instances where people have gone over the side, and so that is a legitimate concern of the Coast Guard," Sterling said. 

But you don’t wanna be that guy, he continued, “and then cause a delay for hundreds and hundreds of other people."

So if you take a bike on the ferry, take it off with you too.

The Coast Guard, Washington State Ferries and the rental-bike companies encourage passengers to leave the rental bikes at one ferry dock and pick up a different bike after the ferry crossing.

Companies like ofo and LimeBike closely track the locations of their rental bikes and who's riding them. Ferry officials say they try to contact the companies to locate the possibly wayward cyclist. But that can take time.

"It'd be irresponsible for us not to respond immediately," Warr said. "We have to respond within 30 minutes of a call for support or help, if we think there's a person in the water or in distress."

Bike in distress:

Year started with KUOW: 2009