Dockless Companies Deliver Bike-Share to Underserved Areas

Camden Mayor Frank Moran rides an ofo bike. Photo:  Patrick Miner/Twitter
Camden Mayor Frank Moran rides an ofo bike. Photo: Patrick Miner/Twitter

Dockless bike-share is still very new in American cities and we’re just beginning to understand the positives and negatives.

But one of the more exciting possibilities is the potential to bring bike-share to new areas, especially lower-income neighborhoods or neighborhoods of color that have been left out. There’s no reason conventional docked bike-share couldn’t do the same, given the political will, and some cities are doing better at that than others.

But where docked systems are falling short, in some cases private dockless companies are picking up the slack. Chinese bike-share firm ofo arrived in in Camden, New Jersey, last week with 200 bikes. The grant-supported pilot is meant to gauge whether the community can support a permanent bike-share system. Bikes will be available for $1 per hour during the seven-month trial and can be locked anywhere.

Charles Brown, of the New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center, says Camden is now the lowest-income city (median income $27,000) in the U.S. to have a bike-share system.

Meanwhile, Chicago launched a small bike-share pilot on the majority-black Far South Side. As Streetsblog Chicago has reported, Pace, Lime Bike, and ofo are all taking part. But like Camden’s pilot, the Chicago experiment is limited. So far Chicago has permitted no more than 750 bikes for a service area that covers roughly a fifth of the area of the city of 2.7 million, so there may not be sufficient bike density, although it’s possible more companies will join the pilot.

Washington, DC, is another area where dockless companies — like Mobike, Spin, ofo, Lime Bike, and JUMP — have moved into neighborhoods on the city’s majority-black southeast section that Capital Bikeshare has not. Anecdotally, DC dockless bike-share ridership is more diverse than that of the public docked system, where ridership is only about 4 percent black.

Brown thinks dockless bike-share presents opportunities for communities that have not been well served by traditional bike-share. Although Camden’s pilot is relatively small, the demonstration may show there’s an appetite for many more bikes.

“They were willing to invest in places that other people were not and I think that in itself is noble,” Brown told Streetsblog.

  • Joe Linton

    In L.A., LimeBike has brought bike-share to some low-income communities of color, including Watts https://la.streetsblog.org/2017/12/21/trying-out-l-a-s-three-dockless-bike-share-systems/

  • ChicagoCyclist

    I question whether, as many folks seem to think, and many say outright (e.g. Mary Wisniewski in her Trib article recently : http://www .chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-dockless-bike-lock-debate-20180503-story.html — that dockless bikeshare really is/will be less expensive for most ‘regular’users than docked, Divvy bikeshare. If a person takes only 4 trips a week — and remember each ‘leg’ of a journey is a ‘trip’ — then that adds up to $208 per year (at $1 per ride). Currently, Divvy is $99/yr and $10-$15 discounts are pretty easy to come by (simply by Googling). So I wonder, could DoBi – like some other for-profit companies/industries/sectors – end up inordinately, unfairly, and inequitably impacting low-income folks (where DoBi is being rolled out – ironically for equity reasons)? Or will dockless bike share companies offer discounted annual memberships? Taking the $1 per ride as guide, which is about 1/3 of the cost of a single Divvy ride,one could argue that the same ratio should apply and that DoBi companies shouldoffer 24 hr. and annual membership fees at 1/3 of the price of Divvy – i.e. $4 and $33 for one time, 24-hr, and annual membership, respectively, for dockless bike share fees seems respectively. The fact that DoBi could end up costing low-income users who use it, say, 200 times in a year, $200 is an equity issue.

  • If the private sector is willing to throw money at bike share in lower-income communities (or really any at all), that’s wonderful. That means that government money can go toward stuff that ACTUALLY improves biking for everyone: infrastructure.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Dockless serves not just communities of color, or communities of low income, but also communities on hills. Motivate won’t install a bike share on a hill of any significance but there’s Lime bikes well uphill from the bike share zone of Oakland right now.

  • Free!

    Bike share improves biking for everyone. Every person on a bike brings more awareness to the rest of us.

  • But (good) bike infrastructure also improves biking for everyone and most US cities are pathetically lacking in that regard. Even the “bike-friendly” ones. As long as that situation exists, public funds should be going toward getting that infrastructure built, not putting colorful bikes on every corner.

  • HamTech87

    Yonkers, NY gave up waiting for CitiBike. LimeBike is rolling out soon. There will be a sample bike and information table this Saturday, May 12th from noon to 4pm in conjunction with the Science Barge 10th Anniversary. 99 Dock Street, Yonkers, NY.

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