Is the Dockless Bike-Share Revolution a Mirage?

Spin and Limebike, along with ofo, are the three venture-funded bike-share companies active in Seattle. Photo: SounderBruce/Flickr
Spin and Limebike, along with ofo, are the three venture-funded bike-share companies active in Seattle. Photo: SounderBruce/Flickr

After dockless bike-share companies blanketed cities in China with millions of bicycles, firms like ofo and LimeBike set their sights on American markets, backed by heaps of venture capital. They’ve put thousands of bikes on the streets of Seattle, Dallas, and Washington, and they aren’t about to stop there. If they haven’t tried to set up shop in your city yet, odds are they will soon.

In D.C., the city government has taken a measured approach, phasing in fleets from the dockless companies to complement the station-based, publicly-run Capital Bikeshare. The new bikes have largely been well-received, and anecdotal evidence suggests they’re getting more use in the city’s black neighborhoods than CaBi, whose ridership skews white and affluent.

In Dallas, where companies quickly dropped 20,000 shared bikes on the streets, the dockless bike-share experiment isn’t going so smoothly. Complaints about bikes discarded on sidewalks and in all sorts of bizarre places have led city officials to threaten to impound them from the companies.

It’s easy to dismiss this crankiness as a fussy double standard that people never apply to the illegally parked cars littering city sidewalks, crosswalks, and bus stops. But there are bigger questions about the venture-funded dockless bike-share model that go deeper than the propriety of where the bikes are parked.

Long-time observers of American bike-share systems have serious doubts about the safety, utility, and long-term viability of the new services. One of those bike-share industry veterans is Alison Cohen, CEO of Bicycle Transit Systems.

As the executive of a bike-share operator that predates the venture-funded era, with contracts in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Nevada, Cohen isn’t impartial. But talk to public officials at city transportation agencies — people with no financial stake in who wins or loses in the bike-share market — and you’ll hear similar concerns.

Cohen says there’s nothing that special about the “docklessness” of the new bike-share services. “The technology is not revolutionary,” she said. “There have been lock-to-yourself bikes forever.”

What’s new is all the venture funding backing the companies, their willingness to bypass official arrangements with local governments, and the lack of transparency about ridership and other performance metrics.

Despite the information vacuum, cities are clearly intrigued by the idea of a free lunch. In a place like Dallas, adding thousands of brightly colored bicycles overnight can produce the appearance of being a bikeable city, without putting in the legwork of building out a safe on-street bike network.

Meanwhile, local governments have essentially stopped expanding bike-share systems with city funds. “There’s no public money going to bike-share anymore,” Cohen said. “This model of [cities issuing requests for proposals] is not happening anymore.” As the government role recedes, so does public oversight of goals like integrating bike-share with transit, or ensuring the equipment is safe and well-maintained.

In Florida, a bill in the state legislature backed by a lobbyist for ofo goes so far as to pre-empt existing city contracts with bike-share companies and impose statewide safety and performance standards. The bill is opposed by the North American Bike Share Association, which sees it as a power play to circumvent basic quality controls. (NABSA is a trade group encompassing city agencies, bike-share equipment makers, and system operators — including ofo and the new batch of bike-share companies, though presumably the membership isn’t unanimous in its stance on the bill.)

How are the new bike-share services performing?

Since the new companies won’t release much data on their own, Bicycle Transit Systems hired Toole Design Group to field test dockless bike-share services in D.C. and Seattle last fall and issue a report [PDF].

A significant share of the bikes — 12 percent — were diagnosed with “major defects,” like damaged brakes or missing lights, which pose safety hazards.

The testers also found that 12 percent of the bikes were parked in private spaces that might make them inaccessible to the public.

In addition, there was a mismatch between the bikes visible in Transit, the trip-planning app the testers used, and bikes on the ground. In D.C., the actual number of bikes exceeded the what the app displayed by 8 percent, and in Seattle, there were more than twice as many bikes as shown in the app. The discrepancies raise questions about trip data the companies may release.

The companies aren’t opening up ridership data

Some flaws in the new bike-share systems would be acceptable if people are making a lot of trips with them. But we don’t have a good idea how much use the bikes are getting, because the companies guard that proprietary data closely, and cities for the most part aren’t insisting on public access.

The numbers that have come out so far aren’t impressive. In Aurora, Colorado, ofo fed vastly inflated usage stats to the city’s bike-share coordinator, who passed the numbers on to Streetsblog Denver, which issued a correction and retraction after the truth came out. People were making 0.18 trips per bike each day on Aurora’s dockless systems, a very low rate and a tiny fraction of the 2.5 daily trips per bike initially claimed.

Limited data from Seattle looks better. Two months into a pilot program with ofo, LimeBike, and Spin, the city reported a usage rate of 2.5 trips per bike each day, respectable numbers compared to most American bike-share systems, though still much lower than New York’s Citi Bike, Paris’s Velib, or Mexico City’s EcoBici — which all average more than five daily trips per bike.

But more recent data suggests usage rates in Seattle have fallen. Between late June and the end of November, people made 347,300 trips, according to the city, with 9,388 bikes permitted to the three companies at the tail end of that timeframe. The number of permitted bikes was lower at the beginning of the pilot, and there are fewer available bikes on the street than the number of permits, so we don’t know how many bikes were available when. But Doug Trumm at the Urbanist points out that, assuming there were an average of 4,000 bikes available each day, that works out to just 0.68 daily trips per bike.

Insisting on a basic level of trip data transparency should be a core demand from any city before allowing the companies to operate.

How long will it last?

The dockless bike-share companies are riding an enormous wave of venture capital. China-based Mobike and ofo — the two largest bike-share companies — were valued at about $1 billion each late last year. A round of investment in LimeBike propelled its valuation to about $225 million less than a year after its founding, Forbes reports.

Are these companies financially viable? If so, how will they get into the black? It’s a safe bet that none of the companies are turning a profit from bike-share fees, which in China run as low as 30 cents per hour.

The business model partly relies on cheap bikes of much lower quality than the earlier generation of American bike-share systems. The venture-backed firms are putting out bikes that may cost $200 each, says Cohen, compared to about $1,200 for the sturdier models in systems like Divvy or Citi Bike. The new bikes’ cheap construction accounts for the high rate of defects and the sense of disposability that leads to China’s enormous “bicycle graveyards.”

One revenue stream for the new companies, aside from fees, is selling trip data, much like Uber does.

In China, the companies also stay afloat by collecting deposits. Each user pays around $30 U.S. to access a bike-share company’s service. Some of the companies have been sued for failing to return deposits when requested. Chinese regulators, concerned that some companies are illegally investing their pool of deposits, are reportedly moving to impose stricter oversight. That may be one reason many dockless bike-share start-ups aren’t expected to survive 2018.

It’s possible — maybe even likely — that some of the venture-backed bike-share companies will emerge as viable in the long run, providing useful urban mobility services. How much should cities bet on that?

  • Aaron Bialick

    Angie – awesome, insightful piece that sheds light on a new and mysterious type of agent on our cities’ streets.

  • Sarah

    Good stuff to know. However, I really think the dockless idea is a good one—so much more convenient than the older, station-based sharing. I never use those, because the stations are so inconveniently located for me. I see the concern about sturdiness, but I also don’t see why it’s necessary to pay $1200 for a sturdy bike. Surely they can be had for less.

  • Alyssa Alt

    Insightful article. I can’t find any info about the merger of Ofo and Mobike. Do you have a source of that? Thank you!

  • Apparently the merger talks were called off. The article has been corrected. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • redbike

    Another problem with “dockless” bike share: consider the picture at the top of the article. It shows two “dockless” bikes locked to a public bike rack. On a public sidewalk. Require “dockless” bike share operators to, at their expense, add to the number of public bike racks throughout their service area. And those public bike racks shouldn’t subtract from pedestrian space. Put ‘em in the street, in lieu of motor vehicle parking.

  • JZ71

    Hypothetical question – if a customer leaves a bike on private property, is it “finders keepers”?! Can the property owner hold it for ransom? Keep it as abandoned property?

  • Joshua Putnam

    Wait…. ridership in Seattle went down between an unusually dry summer and the depths of the rainy winter season, and that’s supposed to be a defect in dockless bike share?

    That’s been true for every form of bicycle ownership in Seattle since the 1890s. People ride more in June than November, even if they have ample bikes to ride.

  • Joshua Putnam

    They’re not actually locked to the rack, just leaning on it. They have kickstands.
    You can just move them if you need to use the rack.

  • JK

    The heavily used, well funded and well managed Citibike system in NYC struggles to keep their tank-like bikes in good repair — but the bikes, however creaky are always safe. Why are people confident that these dockless systems — which are opaque and seem very sketchy — are keeping their bikes maintained and safe? Cheap bikes use crappy parts and need much more maintenance than the more expensive, and more durable, Citibikes. It is a false economy to use cheaper bikes (a capital cost) because if the operator actual does maintain their cheap bikes their your maintenance costs will be a lot higher. These dockless systems need to open their books and their data if they want public permits.

  • Alyssa Alt

    Thanks for the update. Appreciate it.

  • Nancy Johnson

    I was expecting to read an article telling us that dockless bike-sharing is racist.

  • Wanderer

    Illegally parked cars are illegally parked cars and should be dealt with as such. The cars don’t justify bikes left on a sidewalk. Ask someone who’s in a wheelchair or has a mobility impairment.

  • Asher Of LA

    Aurora’s low ridership is probably due to companies using it as a staging area for future dockless bikeshare in Denver (if allowed of course).

    I can’t speak for Barcelona or Mexico City, but Citibike’s high rides per bike is a function of an undersupply of bikes more than anything else. It’s hardly expanded in several years, despite high demand. Seattle and Citibike now have about the same number of bikes, 10k, while Citibike serves about 6.5x as many people, if you count only the areas where docks are, let alone the greater NYC. According to September stats, Seattle’s bikeshare gets four times as many rides per capita as NYC’s, and five times more than Portland’s. For September, Seattle’s dockless bikes had 2.5x the rides per bike as Biketown.

    The later round of Seattle data seems a bit iffy, given how Limebike’s reported average trip distance is 1 mile while SDOT says bikes averaged 3 miles. Citibike rides per bike per day went down 38% from September to November, with a ~10% increase in bikes, while Seattle’s bike volume went from about 6k to 9.4k, a 50-60% increase. And it sounds like Seattle has a bigger difference in rainfall between September and November/December, than NYC.

    >One revenue stream for the new companies, aside from fees, is selling trip data

    Do you have a source? I’ve seen this claimed but never substantiated. Uber has never made a profit despite having such supposedly valuable data.

    >’The venture-backed firms are putting out bikes that may cost $200 each, says Cohen”

    Aside from ofo’s earliest, GPS-less crop of bikes, these bikes tend to cost about $400. The frames themselves are on par with entry level bike shop bikes – after all they’re from the same manufacturers (though Joe Linton documented some quality issues). http://fortune.com/2017/03/21/chinese-bike-sharing/

    > How much should cities bet on that?
    They’re not betting much, they’re getting paid by these firms through fees on the bikes.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d5b611b16af30cb3cfc90cc096e05274f611b6af49f76fa44678fc624415c328.jpg

    I agree that cities should insist on more transparency, and require firms to enable third party aggregation of locations and potentially payments, to strengthen consumer choice and reduce the incentive to swamp the market with bikes. Limebike for one did publish an annual report on its ridership.

    As for the threat of too many bikes on the streets, cities could have a simple rule of not allowing more bikes from a firm until that firm’s ridership is higher than some threshold, say 1.5 rides per bike per day, and the increment of increase would be proportional to the ridership (e.g. so if a company was averaging 3 rides per bike per day, they could double their bike volume). The rides per bike per day is not as important when the city isn’t paying for each bike, except to ensure that bikes aren’t taking up city space without being used (like cars…).

    The article also does not mention how two major legacy bikeshare firms have already adopted dockless bikeshare, JUMP/SoBi and Pace/Zagster, albeit requiring users to lock the bike to a street fixture. Kinda pokes a big hole in the “dockless is a scam” when respected incumbents are getting in the game.

    It’s certainly curious to subject dockless bikeshare to standards that most municipal bikeshares themselves do not meet. Sure, firms may have put too many bikes down relative to current demand, but demand is growing (Limebike claims it broke its daily record three weeks in a row, in Dallas – http://fox6now.com/2018/02/06/dallass-rush-into-bikeshare-turns-controversial/).

    Below is a graph of data I’ve collected. Would you rather a city have a) fewer bikes that are used a lot (NYC) or b) lots of bikes that are more available, with more ridership per city inhabitant?

    Sources:
    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1qfIH8XgvuEhoZs2RcXesNskemNHul_11QC8TGdUIp74/

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    It’s not a problem, it’s a feature that makes bike sharing way more convenient. If a bike rack is being using 2.5 times a day, there’s no reason bike share users shouldn’t be able to use bike racks. It shouldn’t matter if the bike I’m locking to the rack a rented bike, and owned bike or a shared bike. It’s much more convenient for riders when they can lock their bike up anywhere and not have to worry about where the bike stations are. Biking should be cheaper and more convenient than riding an Uber. Sadly bike sharing sometimes fails this most basic reality. When bike parking becomes a problem, then that’s easily fixable by installing more bike racks.

  • Nancy

    These bikes aren’t getting 2.5 rides each per day, it’s the typical , blowing-smoke-bs that public transit folks lie about. These people that invested their venture capital in this silliness will all lose.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Bike sharing is obvious a new concept and I seriously doubt there is such a thing as ‘typical’ this early in the game. But having used both Ford GoBike that require docking stations and Jump dockless E-bikes, the Jump dockless bikes are superior in every facet. Jumping on a bicycle should be more convenient and cheaper than jumping in a taxi. Bike sharing takes cars off the road by giving people viable alternatives to get to where they need to go.

  • Alon Levy

    The big tradeoff with dockless is that, without rebalancing, it gets way less ridership per bike (Citibike gets 5, Velib’ gets 6), but because the cost of a bike is lower, it can just flood the city with bikes. Velib’s operating costs, the highest in France, are three or four thousand euros per bike annually; in the rest of France, like Lyon or Strasbourg, things are much better. Alex Baca told me that UH Bike’s installation costs are $25,000/bike one-time (not annually). In contrast, dockless has an installation cost in the three figures.

  • Nuwanda

    Thanks Angie for an insightful piece about the dockless disruption. Neighbors where I live in DC are complaining on our local email list about the dockless bikes being parked all over the place without any clear rules and/or guidance. They want dockless to go away and fast.

    I’ve defended dockless as a great addition to the biking landscape and tried to remind neighbors that it’s the users that are to blame for poor parking. Besides citing better etiquette, what can those of us who support the dockless bikes do to help convince skeptics that dockless bike sharing is a good thing?

  • Obvious

    The dockless bikes offer the option of people dropping the bikes off anywhere, those dock bikes are tied to a hub, they should paint the sidewalk with lines so people know to leave room for wheelchairs.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    Wrong. The companies are profiting off of use of a public good and are limiting bike parking availability. It’s especially problematic if they flood an area with bikes and they sit idle frequently.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    Yeah, we have to hold peoples’ hands because they lack common sense or basic courtesy. If you can’t comfortably walk through, a wheelchair can’t navigate it either. You can’t fix stupid.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    Look at the dockless bikes in China. Essentially disposable. Lifecycle is much lower than docked systems, and far fewer features (often no gears, lousy brakes, solid tires that ride like crap).

  • Kenny Easwaran

    One of the main benefits of dockless over docked bikeshares is that the dockless bikes can gradually migrate to the neighborhoods where people actually use them, while the docked bikes are stuck in neighborhoods where the operator can collect ad revenues from the docks. Thus, the dockless bikes are more likely to properly serve poor and minority neighborhoods than docked ones.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    You can’t completely fix stupid, but you can use good design principles to help people understand what they’re doing.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Bikeshare bikes need to be sturdier than private bikes, because they get used more times per day, they stay outside in all weather conditions, they have to have seats and other parts adjusted regularly for different-sized riders, and they have to deal with users that aren’t also owners. It’s not obvious that the existing docked bikeshare systems have found the right price point (perhaps lower is better to treat the bikes as more disposable, or perhaps higher is better so the bikes last more years).

  • Asher Of LA

    FWIW, seems to be very much a generational thing where older people don’t understand the social utility of shared for profit amenities.

    Parking my own car on the street = good
    Parking a company car that serves 10x as many people = wicked exploitation of the public right of way

    That said, the bikes should achieve some base level of ridership to justify their use of space, say >1 per day annually. Which companies need to do anyway to be profitable.

  • Asher Of LA

    Would you rather have:
    A) low bike volume, high usage of each bike, lower total bikeshare use (NYC, docked) or
    B) high bike volume, lower usage per bike, and much higher total bikeshare bike use (Seattle, dockless).

    Chart below

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b37b521fb70c75630de444067bed97421e0436ade601754627d9374d6bf072e6.jpg

  • rohmen

    I was in Key Biscyane, FL recently, and they have a decent number of
    Lime Bikes around the Village—which seem to be used by both residents and tourists. I
    didn’t get a chance to ride one, and not sure how long they’e been out,
    but from what I saw the bikes were in good shape, and were generally not left in places that
    obstructed the sidewalks or caused mobility issues, etc.

    I’m sure there
    are examples of people being stupid even there, and the pics from Seattle and D.C. show there can be
    problems, but dockless bike share didn’t cause mass pandemonium.

  • Obvious

    It really to me seems like an excuse by the overpriced bike sharing companies for affordable options that will increase usage. Who cares how many damaged bikes there are if theyre cheap and responsible for maintaining them and fixing them, maybe if they block more wheelchair routes theyre also responsible for adding new wheelchair access points. I feel like people like to claim the environment or access when its usually a profit reason.

  • I think it’s really tough without the data. If we had data that showed, people are using these bikes and finding them useful, it would be easier to defend these systems.

  • Stephen Simac

    Many of these dockless bikes will end up on barges shipped to third world countries. That bike dump in China is in a port city, probably transitioning to Vietnam and Burma. There are millions of bicycles sitting in garages or back yards, probably in need of repair, so it’s not just ownership that increases maintenance, but that’s how many of these rentals will end up, when the companies just dump them when they go broke.

  • rivardau

    ADD MORE BIKE RACKS!

    every city has minimum car parking requirements. Every city Should Have minimum bike rack requirements, including putting at least 1 full row of bike racks in 1 auto parking lot space.

    And as noted above, people park cars illegally too. We dont call for removal of cars, we have enforcement of things like tickets or towing on the owners/renters of the cars….and the cars are usually not just dumped into landfills.

    Let’s treat bikes the same! provide enough legal parking spaces, enforce tickets upon the last renter who would be the person who left the bike illegally, and if bikes are picked up/”towed” due to illegal parking, that they get returned to the owner upon paying the proper fees. (which in this case, the bike company….who can then charge back the credit card of the last known renter).

  • dr2chase

    I wish I could upvote this more, and it would be worth also measuring the difficulty of finding and (legally) dropping a bike. Bike utilization is not the most interesting metric, and nobody’s complaining about the extremely low utilization of 3 of the 4 bikes I own (it’s winter, only one bike has snow tires, etc).

    Cities do generally provide parking for cars, often free parking; they should also provide ample parking for bicycles, including rental bicycles, inciuding cheap rental bicycles. There seems to be this idea that because it sucks to park a car, it should also suck to park a bicycle. Unless we like noise, pollution, traffic jams, and extra pedestrian danger, this is a dumb policy.

  • cjstephens

    Me, too, but she really managed to avoid going down that path this time.

  • cjstephens

    Good article. One quibble: she seems unduly suspicious of the dockless systems because they’re not government funded and are backed by bogeyman venture capitalists. If they’re providing a public service, especially one that can benefit lower-income neighborhoods (see comments below) and not spending taxpayer money while doing it, I say bring it on.

    Also: “As the government role recedes, so does public oversight of goals like integrating bike-share with transit, or ensuring the equipment is safe and well-maintained.” Isn’t the incentive to maintain the equipment and make it as useful as possible (integrating with transit) already baked into the business model? A dockless bikeshare bike with a flat tire can’t generate its owners revenue until it’s repaired. A dockless bike that doesn’t pair well with transit (how?) doesn’t make its owners money. Isn’t that a better incentive than compliance with an RFP?

    It’s early days yet with dockless bikeshare, and there will be plenty of wrinkles to iron out (and startups that will fail). In the meantime, I look forward to having more biking options available to me, docked or dockless. I don’t see much advantage in waiting for local governments to make this their priority.

  • Ken Hulls

    The business model that dockless bike companies operate under is about obtaining and monetizing personal data. Among other things it helps explain their secretive approach to data and why bike maintenance and quality are not a major focus. It also explains why the bikes are so cheap to use. The investment companies that have funded dockless bike share operators expect good returns because personal data has a high value at present. If bikes are not used there is less data, a possible reason for making false claims about usage IF that is what is happening.
    More significantly, the ability to use acquired personal is anticipated to be greatly restricted in the near future as regulators begin to reign in the abuse of personal information. When that happens the business model may well fail so it won’t even be an illusion

  • Michael James

    As the author, and anyone who writes professionally about dockless bikes, writes, there is no transparency on data. So where do your data come from? Some place dark and smelly? From some VC rag trying to spin a line?

  • Asher Of LA
  • Michael James

    And as noted above, people park cars illegally too. We dont call for removal of cars, we have enforcement of things like tickets or towing on the owners/renters of the cars….and the cars are usually not just dumped into landfills.

    I agree that the city should treat these the same as illegally parked cars, which BTW is a big source of city income! If the city imposed a fine for littering or obstruction, or simply confiscated the offending bikes, then the already-dubious financials of these dockless companies would implode. These schemes are simply another corporate attempt to exploit the commons without paying for it.

  • Michael James

    That is simply the exact same data, but equally without any source given. What did you think you were “proving”?

  • Asher Of LA

    Lol chill bro, maybe you need to take a bike ride. The sources are hyperlinked on the other tab.

  • ohhleary

    Your base for NYC population is deeply flawed, since neither the entirety of Manhattan or Brooklyn are served by Citibike.

    Population of Brooklyn neighborhoods not served by Citibike: 1,836,000
    Population of Manhattan neighborhoods not served by Citibike: 357,000

    And for the sake of fairness, add about 120,000 for the neighborhoods in Queens that have been added in the past year. With this, and an adjustment to your error in calculating rides per 100 people per day for NYC (62K rides per day / 2.47MM people served), Citibike is number one in bikeshare usage (2.5 rides per 100 people) among the systems in your comparison.

    Not sure what you’re trying to prove here, and dockless has its merits, but to paint Citibike as “lower total bikeshare use” is false.

  • Asher Of LA

    Your source for the population figures?

  • Asher Of LA

    Here is the updated chart, using your figures, as well as an NYC total population.

    FWIW, my concern is about the technology, and not whether it’s a competitive or government-contracted service. If dockless models have substantial savings, as proponents claim, then bikeshare can reach more people given the same amount of funding. Much like say, how new farming tools that increase the yield per acre would increase the amount of land under cultivation.

    Perhaps the greatest evidence of the viability of dockless is that Zagster and Social Bicycle as JUMP, established bikeshare firms, have embraced it. If dockless bikes were an unsustainable flash in the pan, why would these legacy firms go dockless? (And SoBi already was dockless technically, but penalized it in practice.) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4eec3740461b812960e3673a481a0e43947ebeaa46aefe969ab2ee3ad209f925.jpg

  • ohhleary

    FWIW, I used the NYC.gov population dashboard, which pulls from 2010 Census data (projected to 2014). I had to count by neighborhood to get to those numbers.

    That second complication is definitely a gripe of mine, but you have it a little backwards: the city has been willing to let Citibike expand, but only at their own expense. NYC has an incredibly frustrating resistance to using public money to support what is, as the numbers go, a successful bikeshare system. My neighborhood still isn’t served, and my city councilperson raises this point at nearly every hearing where NYCDOT is present, and it falls on deaf ears, even with a looming 15-month subway shutdown a year away.

    I worry that the density of NYC poses significant challenges to dockless — sidewalk space is at a premium, and dockless bikes could further crowd already-crowded sidewalks, even in inner-ring neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens. The city has been incredibly slow and resistant to on-street corrals, which would be a necessity if dockless came into the picture (not for dockless bikes, but to simply make room on sidewalks already crowded with personal bicycles). It’s not the visual clutter that worries me, it’s really an issue of space. Walk down (or just Google Street View) Prince Street in SoHo or Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg to see an example of sidewalks that already suffer from this issue. Having docking stations helps create order out of chaos.

    Seattle has relatively uncrowded, wide sidewalks, so dockless works really well there! I never felt boxed-in by bikes there as I walked around last month, even though they were ever-present.

    I think dockless would do very well in areas like Eastern Queens and Staten Island. The city already seems to be suggesting this could be the case, as the RFI for their dockless pilot program says the service area can’t overlap with Citibike.

  • Asher Of LA

    Yeah, much of NYC would need dedicated space for bikes. Of course, there’s plenty of room in the form of street parking spaces, and that’s where many of the Citibike stations were put. But it requires courage that the current administration doesn’t have. (Though don’t certain hoods have carshare-dedicated spaces?)

    Some people think that dedicated parking spaces defeats the purpose of dockless, but if the spaces are small and scattered (say 1 car sized corral per block face in high density areas), they’d still have high proximity to destinations and without the capital costs of docks.

    At least in Manhattan, for the tiny number of people that own cars, it is absurdly car-dominated.

  • Fish

    It’s not a one size fits all. Dockless bike share works perfectly in Seattle–it’s dense but not too dense, walkable, bikeable and it will not have the public transit system it needs until 2040. Docked bikeshare did not work well in Seattle because it has a lot of mildly dense neighborhoods that were not dense-enough to justify having its own dock. So I don’t think dockless bikeshare is needed in more dense cities like NYC, Philly and DC where just about every neighborhood block could support a station. On the other end of the spectrum, car-centric places like Dallas and Florida could pay people to ride bikes and they still wouldn’t be successful.

  • Fine the poor parker. It’s pretty easy to figure out who they are. Or allow the bike share to pass along the fine. Once people get a fine or two, they’ll improve. It doesn’t have to be a big fine for the first few offenses, since everything is tracked.

  • Michael James

    These companies don’t wish to share their “data” with government so let’s just leave it to the companies to figure out how they will cope with all these fines their users are creating by careless parking (and of course one problem is that third parties or simple vandals, may be responsible for moving the bikes to a nuisance location).
    The analogy with illegally parked cars doesn’t work because individuals don’t own these bikes. It’s closer to hire-cars and ofcourse there is a ton of contract detail you sign upon hiring a car that ensures you are responsible if the hire car gets a fine. No need to burden the government with another cumbersome bureaucracy chasing down thousands of individuals–just fine the companies, with their license to operate in the city at risk if they fail to comply or to pay on time etc.

  • Meanwhile, local governments have essentially stopped expanding bike-share systems with city funds. “There’s no public money going to bike-share anymore,” Cohen said. “This model of [cities issuing requests for proposals] is not happening anymore.” As the government role recedes, so does public oversight of goals like integrating bike-share with transit, or ensuring the equipment is safe and well-maintained.

    The retreat of government money from bike share is a blessing. Americans have bikes, but what they lack are places to safely ride and park them because American bike infrastructure is garbage. With many communities wanting to see a crowd of colorful bikes show up to ‘justify’ any investment into bike infrastructure, the arrival of venture capital to provide those bikes means that the taxpayer dollars can instead be go for what is actually useful: concrete changes in the environment.

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